The original article in the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica traced Mesopotamian history to its earliest beginnings and provided a detailed survey of Mesopotamian literature and institutions. With the availability of such tools as J. Sasson et al. (eds.), Civilizations of the Ancient Near East (cane, 1995), the etana website, and A. Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East c. 3000–330 b.c. (2 vols., 1995) the need for such comprehensive coverage in this Encyclopaedia is less acute. Accordingly, the present revision concentrates on those elements of Mesopotamian history and culture most relevant to understanding the Bible and ancient Israel and Judah.
the amorite period c. 2000–1800 b.c.e.
Within the limits imposed by the nature of the evidence, the beginning of the second millennium may be characterized as the era of the *Amorites. Amurru (or Amaru) was, in its earliest cuneiform attestations, simply a geographic name for the west, or for the deserts bordering the right bank of the Euphrates. This area, which stretched without apparent limit into the Syrian and Arabian Deserts, was traditionally the home of nomadic tribes of Semitic speech who were drawn to the civilized river valley as if by a magnet and invaded or infiltrated it whenever opportunity beckoned. In the process they became progressively acculturated – first as semi-nomads who spent part of the year as settled agriculturalists in an uneasy symbiosis with the urban society of the irrigation civilizations, and ultimately as fully integrated members of that society, retaining at most the linguistic traces of their origins. It was thus that, perhaps as early as about 2900 b.c.e., the first major wave of westerners had entered the Mesopotamian amalgam, and under the kings of Kish and Akkad became full partners in the Sumero-Akkadian civilization that resulted. When, however, the Akkadian sources themselves spoke of Amorites, as they did beginning with Shar-kali-sharri about 2150, they were alluding to a new wave of invaders from the desert, not yet acclimated to Mesopotamian ways. Such references multiply in the neo-Sumerian texts of the 21st century, and correlate with growing linguistic evidence based chiefly on the recorded personal names of persons identified as Amorites which shows that the new group spoke a variety of Semitic, ancestral to
later Hebrew, Aramaic, and Phoenician. All these languages (and some other dialects) are therefore called West Semitic (or Northwest Semitic) by modern linguists, to distinguish them from the East Semitic, or Akkadian, language spoken in Mesopotamia. The latter, used side by side with the non-Semitic Sumerian, and often by one and the same speaker, was heavily influenced by Sumerian and developed along lines of its own; but it also reacted to the Amorite impact and split into two fairly distinct dialects: Babylonian in the south and Assyrian in the north.
Amorite influence was not, however, confined to the linguistic level. Many cultural innovations of the second millennium, notably in religion and art, can be traced to the new immigration. Since the migrations moved in the direction of Syria-Palestine as well as of Mesopotamia, it is not surprising that numerous common traditions – linguistic, legal, and literary – crop up at both ends of the Asiatic Near East hereafter. Among these common traditions, those of the semi-nomadic wanderings preserved in the patriarchal narratives in Genesis, and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, deserve special notice. The glimpses they provide of tribal organization, onomastic practices, kinship patterns, rules of inheritance and land tenure, genealogical schemes, and other vestiges of nomadic life find analogies in cuneiform records. Yet they are preserved within the framework of a polished literary narrative too far removed from the times it presumes to describe to command uncritical confidence. Nonetheless, it is in this period, that it can be said, that the Levant (that is, the area of Syria-Palestine) begins at this time to emerge from prehistory into history.
The pattern established by the Amorites was to characterize Near Eastern history down to the present: it was only when the natural arenas of centralized political power in Mesopotamia and Egypt were in eclipse that the intervening area, destined by geography for division into petty states, enjoyed an opportunity to make its influence felt in unison. The simultaneous collapse of the Sargonic empire of Akkad and the Old Kingdom in Egypt provided such an opportunity, and already Shulgi of Ur had to construct a defensive wall, presumably at the point where the Tigris and Euphrates flow closest together, to deflect unwanted barbarians from the cities that lay to the south. Shulgi was succeeded by two of his many sons, Amar-Sin and Shu-Sin, each of whom reigned for nine years. Like him, these conducted most of their military campaigns in the east, across the Tigris, but Shu-Sin greatly strengthened the wall, calling it "The one which keeps Didanum at bay" in a direct reference to the Amorite threat. He managed thereby to postpone the final reckoning, and even enjoyed divine honors in his lifetime beyond those of his predecessors. His son Ibbi-Sin, however, was less fortunate, and in native Mesopotamian traditions was remembered as the model of the ill-fated ruler. Unable to withstand the simultaneous onslaughts of Elamites and Subarians from the east and Amorites from the west, he appealed for help to Ishbi-Irra of Mari only to end up with Ishbi-Irra extorting ever more powers for himself until he was able to found a dynasty of his own at Isin, and subsequently allowing the capital city of Ur to be sacked and Ibbi-Sin to be carried off to exile and ultimate death and burial in Elam.
The fall of Ur about 2000 b.c.e. did not mark so clear a break in the historical continuum as has sometimes been assumed. Ishbi-Irra paid homage to the Sumero-Akkadian traditions of the Ur iii dynasty, reigning as king of Ur and perpetuating such time-honored practices as the cult of the deified king, the patronage of the priesthood and scribal schools of Nippur, and the installation of royal princes and princesses as priests and priestesses at the principal national shrines and of loyal officials as governors of the principal provinces. However, whether with his consent or not, these governors were now increasingly of Amorite stock, and wherever possible aspired to royal status for themselves and independence for their city. The latter course particularly characterized the situation beyond the immediate range of his control, notably at Ashur, Eshnunna, Dêr, and Susa beyond the Tigris, as well as upstream on the Euphrates and its tributaries. From Ashur and northern Mesopotamia, a lively trade soon carried
Amorite and Akkadian influence even further afield, into Cappadocia.
Closer to home, the traditional central control was at first maintained, but even here the loyalty of the provinces was shortlived. For most of the 20th century, Ishbi-Irra's descendants at Isin were unchallenged as the successors of the kings of Ur, but before it was over, the Amorite governors of the southeast, probably based at the ancient city of Lagash, asserted their independence in order to protect the dwindling water resources of that region. Under Gungunum, they established a rival kingdom at Larsa which soon wrested Ur from Isin. In short succession, other Amorite chieftains established independent dynasties at Uruk, Babylon, Kish and nearly all the former provinces of the united kingdom, until Isin effectively controlled little more than its own city and Nippur. With the more distant marshes long since under Amorite rule, the 19th century was thus characterized by political fragmentation, with a concomitant outburst of warfare and diplomacy that embroiled all the separate petty states at one time or another.
The "staging area" for the Amorite expansion was probably the Jabel Bishri (Mt. Basar) which divides or, if one prefers, links the Euphrates River and the Syrian Desert. From here it was a comparatively short and easy march down the river to Babylonia or across the river to Assyria. The way to Egypt was not only longer but led through more hilly and intractable land. This may be one reason that the Amorite wave was somewhat longer in reaching the Egyptian border. When it did reach it, it confronted just such a wall as Shu-Sin (c. 2036–2028) had built "to keep Didanum at bay": in one of those curious parallels that punctuate Ancient Near Eastern history, they met the "Wall-of-the-Ruler, made to oppose the Asiatics and crush the Sand-Crossers," and attributed to the founder of the 12th Dynasty. But the extraordinary revitalization of the Egyptian monarchy by this dynasty (c. 1990–1780) was the real reason that the Amorite wave broke harmlessly at the Egyptian border and the characteristic petty statism that it brought in its train was deferred for two centuries.
the era of hammurapi (1800–1600 b.c.e.)
With the beginning of the 18th century b.c.e., the political geography of the Asiatic Near East can for the first time be rendered with reasonable accuracy, and many previously blank spots filled in. This was a period of intense commercial and diplomatic activity, punctuated by military campaigns and sieges conducted at considerable distances from home. The fortuitous recovery of archives from many diverse sites reveals a host of geographic names, and many of these can be approximately located, or even identified with archaeological sites, with the help of occasional itineraries. Such itineraries were guides to travelers or, more often, records of their journeys or of campaigns, comparable to the "War of the four kings against the five" in Genesis 14, by marauding armies, and come closest to maps in the absence of any real cartography.
No small-scale map can, of course, show all the minor vassal and petty states in all their complexity. Even the larger kingdoms and city-states add up to a bewildering number. However, certain patterns can be detected. The Syrian desert was populated by loosely organized tribal groupings still maintaining a largely nomadic way of life; the mountainous border regions beyond the Tigris and the Upper Euphrates were being organized under various non-Semitic peoples who came under varying degrees of Mesopotamian cultural influence; the "Fertile Crescent" itself (that is, the valley of the two rivers together with the eastern Mediterranean littoral) was firmly in the hands of urbanized Amorite rulers. Within this great arc, the largest and most central position was occupied by the kingdom of Shamshi-Adad i (c. 1813–1783), and, at the turn of the century, his seemed the most commanding position. From his capital at Shubat-Enlil, he kept a close eye on his two sons, who ruled their provinces from Mari and Ekallâtum, respectively. The vast archives of *Mari have revealed the intricacies of administration, diplomacy, and warfare of the time as well as the highly personal character of Shamshi-Adad's rule. The crown prince at Ekallâtum, whom he held up to his younger brother as a model, had inherited much of the wealth of nearby Ashur, amassed in the profitable trade with Anatolia in the previous century. Nonetheless, it is misleading to call Shamshi-Adad's realm, as is sometimes done, the first Assyrian empire, for his empire was not based on Ashur, and the petty kingdom of Ashur that survived his death was in no sense an empire.
The main challenge came from the south. The way had been paved by the kingdoms of Warium and Larsa. Warium, with its capital at Eshnunna in the valley of the Diyala River, included the ancient center of the Akkadian empire (and perhaps even preserved its Sumerian name, Uri, in Akkadianized form), while Larsa controlled the ancient Sumerian cities. These two Amorite kingdoms had succeeded in subjecting most of the independent city-states of Sumer and Akkad, and thus turned the tide of particularism that had followed the collapse of the Ur iii empire. They directed their expansionist policies into separate spheres of influence: Eshnunna north and west into Assyria and upper Mesopotamia, Larsa eastward to the ancestral lands of its last dynasty in Emutbal and beyond that toward Elam. That they avoided an open clash was, however, due even more to the existence, between the two, of a relatively small state that nonetheless maintained its independence from both and was destined shortly to succeed and surpass them as well as Shamshi-Adad.
The city of Babylon was a relative newcomer among the members of the old Sumero-Akkadian amphictyony, though later, to match its subsequent importance, it claimed a fictitious antiquity reaching back to antediluvian times. It was strategically located near the narrow waist of the Tigris-Euphrates valley where the two rivers come closest together and whence the capitals of successive Mesopotamian empires have ruled the civilized world from Kish and Akkad down to Ctesiphon and Baghdad. Throughout the 19th century, it was the seat of an independent dynasty which shared (or claimed) a common ancestry with Shamshi-Adad and whose rulers enjoyed long reigns and an unbroken succession passing smoothly from father to son. In 1793, the succession of this first dynasty of Babylon (also known simply as the Amorite Dynasty) passed to *Hammurapi (1792–1750). Hammurapi was one of the great rulers of history, a man of personal genius and vision who left an indelible impress on all his heirs.
At first Hammurapi's prospects seemed anything but favorable. A celebrated Mari letter phrased his situation in classic terms: "There is no king who is all-powerful by himself: ten or 15 kings follow in the train of Hammurapi of Babylon, as many follow Rîm-Sin of Larsa, as many follow Ibal-pî-El of Eshnunna, as many follow Amut-pî-El of Qatna, and 20 kings follow in the train of Yarim-lim of Yamḥad" (G. Dossin, Syria 19 , 105–26). A lesser personality would have fallen victim to the struggles between these and other major powers of the time, but by an adroit alternation of warfare and diplomacy, Hammurapi succeeded where others had failed. He maintained the friendship of Rîm-Sin until his 30th year, when, in defeating him, he fell heir as well to all that Larsa had conquered. He avoided challenging Shamshi-Adad, another older contemporary, but defeated his successor two years after disposing of Rîm-Sin. Three years later, he conquered Mari, where Zimri-Lim had reestablished a native dynasty after the Assyrian defeat. Eshnunna and the lesser states across the Tigris fell to Hammurapi's armies before the end of his reign, and only the powerful kingdoms beyond the Euphrates-notably Yamḥad and Qatna – escaped his clutches. He was a zealous administrator, and his concern for every detail of domestic policy is well documented in his surviving correspondence. He is most famous for his collection of laws which, in the manner initiated by Ur-Namma of Ur, and elaborated in the interval at Isin ("Code of Lipit-Ishtar") and Eshnunna, collected instructive legal precedents as a monument to "The King of Justice." That was the name he gave to the stelae inscribed with the laws which were erected in Babylon and, no doubt, in other cities of his kingdom. Fragments of several, including a well-pre-served one, were carried off centuries later as booty to Susa, where they were rediscovered in modern times; some of the missing portions can be restored from later copies prepared in the scribal schools, where the laws of Hammurapi, recognized as classic, were copied and studied for over a thousand years more. Framed in a hymnic prologue that catalogued his conquests, and an epilogue that stressed his concern for justice, the laws do not constitute a real code. They are not noticeably adhered to in the innumerable contracts and records of litigation from this and subsequent reigns. However, they remain the starting point for the understanding of Babylonian and all Near Eastern legal ideals. Many of their individual formulations, as well as their overall arrangement, are paralleled by the casuistic legislation of Exodus and Deuteronomy.
It is important, in spite of all this, to see Hammurapi's achievement in its proper perspective. His reunification of Mesopotamia, consummated at the end of his reign, survived him by only a few years. His son and successor had to surrender much of the new empire before he had ruled more than a decade. The extreme south was lost to a new dynasty, sometimes called the First Sealand Dynasty; across the Tigris, Emutbal and Elam regained their independence; and the Middle Euphrates was soon occupied by Hanean nomads from the desert and by Kassites (see below). The enduring legacy of Hammurapi lies rather in the legal, literary, and artistic realms, where his reign marked both the preservation and canonization of what was best in the received traditions and a flowering of creative innovations.
the sack of babylon and the dark age (1600–1500 b.c.e.)
As the fall of Akkad ushered in the end of the Early Bronze Age, so the end of the Middle Bronze Age was marked by the capture of Babylon and Memphis. The two great capitals fell to different captors, but a common source may have set in motion the train of events that culminated in their defeat, for to the north of both the high civilizations, an entirely new ethnic element had made its entry onto the stage of history early in the Middle Bronze Age: the *Hittites. These first-attested bearers of Indo-European names played a minor role in the 19th and early 18th centuries, when Hattic princes ruled Anatolia and Assyrian traders crisscrossed the highlands. But, the last Assyrian caravan is attested about 1770 (under Zimri-Lim of Mari); the centers of their trade were destroyed, and by about 1740, the Hittites were able to forge a united kingdom out of the remains of the Hattic principalities. Hattusilis i (c. 1650 – 1620) felt strong enough to rebuild the city of Hattusas (from which he took his throne name) in spite of the curse laid on it a century earlier by its Hattic conqueror, and to rule a growing Anatolian kingdom from this relatively remote northern base inside the great bend of the Halys River. Soon his ambitions extended beyond the Anatolian highlands southward to the fertile plains that beckoned from across the Taurus Mountains. Cilicia fell into his power first, and the Cilician gates opened the way through the Amanus Mountains, the last natural barrier on the way south. However, the Mediterranean coastal route was barred by the Amorite kingdom of Yamḥad, centered on Haleb (Aleppo) and still retaining some of its vigor. After neutralizing this threat, Hattusilis, and more particularly his adopted son Mursilis i, therefore directed their principal efforts against the Hurrian kingdom of Carchemish which controlled the Euphrates. After a long and apparently successful siege of the Hurrian stronghold at Urshu, the Hittites found that they could march unopposed down the rest of the Euphrates all the way to Babylon itself. Here they put an end to the rule of Samsu-ditana (c. 1625–1595), last of the descendants of Hammurapi, and to the Amorite dynasty (or First Dynasty) of Babylon. The great city was sacked and its humiliation completed when the cult statues of its god Marduk and his consort Sarpanitum were carried into captivity.
The Hittites themselves did not press their advantage: 750 miles in a straight line away from Hattusas, Mursilis had overextended himself, and hastened home only to meet his death at the hands of a palace conspiracy that plunged the Hittite kingdom into several generations of turmoil and weakness. The immediate beneficiaries of the sack of Babylon were rather the rulers of the Sealand, who moved north from their independent stronghold in the old Sumerian south and, in the wake of the withdrawing Hittites, seized Babylon for themselves and thus qualified for inclusion in the Babylonian King List as the Second Dynasty of Babylon. However, their occupation, too, was destined to be transitory: within a couple of years the city was occupied by the Kassites, who moved downstream from their foothold in the Kingdom of Hana on the Middle Euphrates. With their arrival in Babylonia proper, a curtain of silence descended over the documentation from that area; for the first time since the invention of writing, there is a nearly total eclipse of cuneiform textual evidence, and for the rest of the 16th century, the Asiatic Near East was plunged into a true dark age.
In the meantime the Amorite kingdoms of the Mediterranean littoral also reacted to the stirrings set in motion by the Hittites. Cut off from their kinsmen in the east, they evolved distinct variations of the common cultural traditions. In the north, these crystallized around *Ugarit, a strategically located center of commerce and industry which was also a seat of learning. It devised an alphabet with an order of letters ancestral to, and essentially identical with, the order of the letters of the Hebrew and Western alphabets. Using this script, Ugarit produced a rich religious and mythological literature, with many features that show up later in biblical poetry. Further south, the biblical corpus itself enshrined much of the common heritage in the distinctive medium of the Hebrew language and Israelite conceptions.
the feudal era (1500–1400 b.c.e.)
The map of the Near East presented a very different appearance in 1500 than it had 300 years earlier. In place of numerous small and medium-sized Amorite states, a few large non-Semitic royal houses now ruled the Fertile Crescent with the help of a nobility based on the ability to maintain horses, equipment, and retainers. The indigenous Semitic population was, at least for the time being, reduced either to the status of a semi-free peasantry or to that of roving mercenaries. A parallel may nonetheless be drawn with the earlier situation, for just as geography seemed to favor Shamshi-Adad i at the beginning of the 18th century, so now it served to favor a kingdom similarly centered in the triangle formed by the tributaries of the Khabur River in Upper Mesopotamia. Somewhere in this Khabur Triangle, at a site still not rediscovered, lay the city of Washukkanni, capital of an empire which stretched clear across northern Mesopotamia from the Mediterranean in the west to beyond the Tigris in the east. The empire, called Mitanni, was headed by a small aristocratic ruling class whose names identify them as Indo-Aryans, i.e., as the western branch of a migration that was at the same time overflowing India. They invoked "Indian" deities and perfected the raising of horses and horse racing, employing in part an Indo-Aryan terminology. (For hesitations about the Indo-European dominance see Kuhrt, 296–98). However, the kingdom which they ruled was primarily a Hurrian state, for it was the Hurrian stratum of the population that made up the bulk of its chariot-nobility.
The Hurrians had begun to settle, and even rule, on the northern and eastern frontiers of Mesopotamia even before the end of the Akkadian empire (to whose fall they may have contributed). They began to enter Mesopotamia proper in increasing numbers in the neo-Sumerian and Old Babylonian periods. They ruled minor localities like Shushara (Shashrum) under Shamshi-Adad i and left their mark at Mari in the form of Hurrian incantations. However, it was only now, with the creation of the Mitanni state, that they took advantage of their strategic location to assume a commanding position. The center of their power in the Khabur region was known as Hanigalbat. To the east they claimed sovereignty over the client kingdoms of Assyria and Arrapha, to the west over those of Mukish and Yamḥad. Most of the documentation comes from these client states rather than from the center of the empire. In particular the archives of *Nuzi and *Alalakh have yielded vast numbers of texts from the realms of family law and public administration respectively. Together they throw valuable light on the newly emerging institutions of a society thought (by some scholars) to have had a direct impact on the institutions of pre-monarchical Israel. The cultural unity of the extensive Mitanni domain is also attested archaeologically: an elegant pottery style designated variously as Khabur, Mitanni, or Nuzi ware characterizes the ceramic remains of sites of this period throughout the area.
A separate Hurrian state grew up at the same time northwest of Mitanni: in the fertile plain later known as Cilicia, the kingdom of Kizzuwatna united the areas lying between Mitanni and the Hittite lands of Anatolia. It served both as a buffer between them in political and military terms and as a bridge in cultural terms. It was, at least in part, by this road that Hurrian literary and religious influences reached Asia Minor, where they were soon to play a major role. The Hurrians, however, were important beyond that as transmitters and transmuters of the older traditions of Babylonia, many of which, according to one theory, reached the West – that is, Hittites and Phoenicians, and via these ultimately also Greeks and Hebrews, respectively – in Hurrian guise.
The prestige of Babylonian culture at this time was in marked contrast to its political eclipse. The country was now securely in the hands of the Kassites, who had already controlled the Middle Euphrates for over a century (c. 1735–1595) before they seized Babylon, and who went on to rule Babylonia proper (which they gave the name of Kar-Duniash) for over four centuries thereafter (c. 1595–1157) – longer than any other dynasty. However, these were centuries of political stagnation for Babylonia. The Kassites were foreign invaders of uncertain ethnic affiliation who eagerly adopted, and adapted themselves to, the literary and artistic heritage of the ancient civilization to which they had fallen heir. They conquered the Sealand in the south about the beginning of the 15th century, thus probably recovering the surviving remnants of Sumerian learning (both scholars and texts) that had found refuge there at the time of the sack of Babylon. Under Kurigalzu i they built a great new administrative capital named Fortress of Kurigalzu (Dur-Kurigalzu) in the strategic narrow waist of the valley, dominated by a traditional stepped tower (ziggurat), the best preserved example of its kind from within Mesopotamia. They adjusted their northern frontiers with varying fortunes in occasional battles with the emerging Assyrians, and one of their 15th-century kings even met on friendly terms with Pharaoh Thutmose iii on the Euphrates. They evolved an essentially feudal society, which secured, while at the same time diluting, the royal power through grants of land and remission of taxes to favored retainers. But by and large they were content to depend on their inherited Babylonian prestige in order to seek a place for themselves in the shifting kaleidoscope of Late Bronze international relations.
This prestige had, in some sense, never been higher. Throughout the Near East, the cuneiform script was being put to use in one form or another, and Akkadian was becoming the language of international diplomacy. In order to master the Akkadian script and language, scribal schools arose as far away as Anatolia and Egypt, and their curriculum followed to some degree the Babylonian model. A fragment of the Gilgamesh Epic, found at *Megiddo, indicates that this was true also of Palestine. Many of the great scribal families of later Babylonia traced their ancestry to Kassite times, and it was probably at this time that the major works of cuneiform literature were put into their canonical form. Thus it was through the patronage of Kassite overlords, and the mediating role of the Hurrians (see above), that traditional Sumero-Akkadian literature and learning spread far and wide from its ancestral home.
In the West, meantime, military and political hegemony was also passing out of the hands of Semitic-speaking peoples. A new dynasty of Theban rulers, the 18th, had succeeded by the middle of the 16th century in driving the *Hyksos (largely consisting of Amorite elements) from Egypt and reuniting the country. Thutmose iii (1490–1436) carried Egyptian arms as far as the Euphrates and reduced all the intervening city-states to vassalage. His greatest victory was won on the very first campaign, when he defeated the armies of the Asiatics, combined, if not exactly united, under the prince of Kadesh (better; Kedesh), at the great battle of Megiddo, the first "Armageddon" (the graecized form of Har Megiddo, "hill of Megiddo"). With Retenu, as the Egyptians called Palestine and Southern Syria, firmly in his grasp, Thutmose iii even challenged the armies of Mitanni and eventually extracted a treaty that recognized a common frontier running between Hama and Qatna (c. 1448). His successors continued to maintain the Asiatic empire by repeated incursions into Palestine and Syria to receive the submission of loyal vassal princes and secure that of the recalcitrant ones. Sporadic finds of cuneiform tablets from Palestine (Taanach, Gezer) seem to include royal exhortations to this effect.
Thus the subjection of the indigenous Amorites was completed before the end of the 15th century throughout the Near East. There was, however, one exception to this rule. Since the emergence of the Amorites, cuneiform texts from very diverse regions had begun to make mention of a group of people called *Ḥabiru with ever increasing frequency until, by the 15th century, they appear in texts from all over the Near East. On philological grounds, these Ḥabiru can be conclusively equated with the ʿApiru of the Egyptian texts and less likely, with the Hebrews of the Bible. Their name was explained, tellingly if not scientifically, as meaning "robbers," "dusty ones," or "migrants," respectively. These Ḥabiru were thus not an ethnic but a social entity: though largely of Amorite stock, they constituted that portion of the population unwilling to submit to Amorite rule or, subsequently and more particularly, to that of their nonsemitic conquerors. Instead they chose to serve as roving mercenaries under successive masters, or, alternatively, to band together in order to impose their own rule in areas beyond the reach of the various imperial armies. The latter was particularly true of the wooded hill country of Syria and Palestine.
There they maintained a tenacious and much maligned independence even while the great powers were dividing up the cleared lowlands.
the emergence of assyria (c. 1400–1200 b.c.e.)
The last two centuries of the Near Eastern Bronze Age witnessed a new cosmopolitanism which flowered under courtly patronage in the 14th century only to disintegrate under the rude assaults of mass migrations in the 13th. The pace of international diplomacy quickened dramatically in the "Amarna Age" (see *El-Amarna); Akkadian became the lingua franca of the Near East (see above) as attested by school texts, correspondence, and treaties from Amarna itself and elsewhere; dynastic marriages were the subject of protracted negotiations and reflected not only the raised status of women (or at least of princesses) but also the international outlook of the ruling strata. This outlook was no doubt fostered by the common practice of educating vassal princes at the great courts – Egyptian, Hittite, or Babylonian – where they served at the same time as hostages for their fathers' loyalty. The delicate balance of power thus constructed on the novel ideas of international negotiation and accommodation survived even the ambitions of particularly strong rulers, such as Suppiluliumas of the Hittites (c. 1375–1335). However, it was not equal to the threat from below: in the end it succumbed to the tidal waves of diverse new ethnic groups which broke on all the shores of the Near East and destroyed the last vestiges of the age of diplomacy. The momentous events that characterized the waning Bronze Age involved Mesopotamia in general, and in particular set the stage for the emergence of Assyria, the only Asiatic power that survived intact into the Iron Age.
The emergence of Assyria as a major Near Eastern power can best be dated to the accession of Ashur-uballiṭ i (c. 1365–1330), who first claimed the title "king of the land of Ashur." Ashur was the name of the god held in special reverence by the Assyrians, and of the ancient city built by his worshipers on the Tigris. For a thousand years before Ashur-uballiṭ's accession, the city had been ruled by a long succession of foreign masters as a minor province, in succession, of the great empires of Akkad, Ur, Eshnunna, Shubat-Enlil, and Washukkanni.
In all this millennium, Ashur had enjoyed the status of an independent city-state only once, in the brief interlude following the fall of Ur (c. 2000–1850). At that time its citizens displayed their vitality by their extensive and sophisticated trading operations deep into Anatolia; many thousands of "Cappadocian" tablets, inscribed in the Old Assyrian dialect, have left an enduring record of this trade. However, even in periods of political subservience, the Assyrians maintained a clear sense of their own identity. Foreign rulers were given native genealogies or, by an equally pious fiction, local governors were elevated to royal status by the later historiography. The Assyrian historians should not, however, be accused of willful distortion; rather, they were giving formal expression to a very real sense of continuity which centered on the worship of Ashur, the deity from whom their city took its name. They thus provide an instructive parallel to the Israelite experience as canonized in the Bible. In both instances, it was the reality of an unbroken religious tradition which permitted an ethnic group to lay claim to the memories or monuments surviving from the Middle Bronze Age and to link them to later political institutions.
In Assyria, these institutions got their chance when Mitannian power began to collapse in the middle of the 14th century, under the combined impact of Hittite pressure and the progressive disengagement from Asiatic affairs by the Egyptian pharaohs of the Amarna period, since Egypt, as the principal ally of Mitanni, was the only effective counterweight to Suppiluliumas' ambitions. Ashur-uballiṭ took advantage of the situation to throw off the Hurrian overlordship of Mitanni. Disdaining that of Kassite Babylonia which claimed to have inherited it, he began to negotiate on a footing of equality with all the great powers of his time, as well as to show the Assyrian mettle in battle, chiefly with the Kassites. Indeed, the fortunes of Assyria and Babylonia were henceforth closely linked; dynastic intermarriages and treaties alternated with breaches of peace and adjustments of the common border in favor of the victor. A synchronistic king list recorded these contacts in the first systematic attempt to correlate the histories of two discrete states before the Book of Kings (which made the same attempt for the Divided Monarchy). This synchronistic style was cultivated by the Assyrian historians along with other historical genres, while the court poets created a whole cycle of epics celebrating the triumphs over the Kassites. The Assyrian kings, portrayed in heroic proportions, figured as peerless protagonists of the latter, and generally claimed the upper hand in these encounters. However, a deep-seated respect for the older culture and religion of Babylonia, which they regarded as ancestral to their own, constrained them from following up on their advantage at first.
This restraint was dropped by Tukulti-Ninurta i (c. 1244–1208), one of the few intriguing personalities in the long line of Assyrian kings who were more often so true to form that they are barely distinguishable one from another. So far from respecting the sanctity of Babylon, he took its defeated king into Assyrian captivity together with the statue of Marduk its god, razed the walls of the city, and assumed the rule of all of Babylonia in his own person. At home, he claimed almost divine honors and, not content with an extensive building program at Ashur, he moved across the Tigris to found a whole new capital, which he named after himself. But in all this he aroused increasing enmity, both for the sacrilege against Babylon and for the heavy exactions of his military and building programs. A reaction set in and, led by the king's own son and successor, the more conservative party imprisoned the king in his new capital and set fire to it. The fame of Tukulti-Ninurta was such that garbled features of his reign are thought to be preserved in both biblical and Greek literature. Thus he is supposed (by some scholars; but cf. above, on Narâm-Sin) to have suggested the figure of Nimrod, the conqueror and hunter of Genesis 10; the "King Ninos" who built "the city of Ninos," according to one Greek legend; and the Sardanapalos who died a fiery death in his own city, according to another. Separating fact from legend, it is clear that his death ushered in a temporary eclipse of the newly emergent Assyrian power that was destined to last for almost a century.
The Assyrian eclipse starting about 1200 was only one phase, and a relatively mild one at that, of the upheaval that marked the end of the Bronze Age throughout the Near East, and whose principal cause was the wave of mass migrations that engulfed the entire area. If there was any one event that may be said to have unleashed these movements, it may conceivably have been the sack of Troy, about 1250 b.c.e., and the subsequent fall of the Mycenean cities of the Greek mainland. The survivors of these catastrophes fled by sea and are collectively known as Sea Peoples. They came, however, not across the open water, but along the coasts, seeking new lands to conquer and settle wherever the established powers were too weak to withstand them, and leaving their names scattered across the Mediterranean littorals and islands to this day, from Cilicia and Philistia (Palestine) in the east to Sicily, Etruria (Tuscany), and Sardinia in the west. The populations displaced by their arrival fled elsewhere to spread the process in a chain-like reaction, until confronted by corresponding migrations from an opposite direction. Thus the Hurrians of Cilicia fled northeast into Hittite Anatolia, putting an end to the Hittite empire there; the Hittite refugees in turn moved southeast into the former Mitanni area of northern Syria. Here they encountered a wave of Semitic-speaking seminomads now moving north from the Syrian desert. These were the *Arameans, with whom the Hittites reached an accommodation resulting in an Arameo-Hittite symbiosis in the petty Syrian city-states of the early Iron Age, who probably spoke Aramaic but used a dialect of Hittite (probably Luwian, written in "hieroglyphic Hittite") for many of their monuments. Further south, the Canaanite (or Amorite) population of Canaan displaced by the *Philistines meanwhile encountered the Israelites, while further to the east, the waning dynasty of the Kassites finally succumbed to Aramean and other pressures by 1157 b.c.e. Thus in the short span of a century, the Near East took on a wholly new aspect, and new protagonists were to rule its destinies in the Iron Age.
the early iron age (c. 1200–750 b.c.e.)
For several centuries, the political history of Babylonia and Assyria after 1200 had little noticeable impact beyond the borders of Mesopotamia, and cannot, therefore, claim the attention of historians in the same measure as earlier periods, some of which contribute in crucial ways to our understanding of all history. The international power vacuum of the time enabled the rise and consolidation of the smaller Levantine polities including Israel and Judah. Occasional royal figures stand out for specific achievements; their names, in consequence, were copied by later kings and thus in some cases passed into the Bible. *Merodach-Baladani (1173–1161), for example, was the last Kassite king who still exercised effective control over Babylonia; a considerable number of boundary stones (kudurru's) attest to the vitality of the land which characterized this dynasty's relations to its feudal retainers. Nebuchadnezzar I (1124–03) was the outstanding ruler of the Second Dynasty of Isin which succeeded the Kassites in Babylonia. He is generally thought to have retrieved the statue of Marduk from captivity (see above), elevated Marduk to his role as undisputed head of the Babylonian pantheon, and commissioned the so-called Epic of Creation (Enuma eliš), actually a hymnic exaltation of Marduk, often cited for its parallels to the biblical versions of creation, though in fact more nearly relevant to the exaltation of the God of Israel in the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15).
His younger Assyrian contemporary, Tiglath-Pileser i (c. 1115–1077), was a worthy adversary who reestablished Assyria's military reputation and, while respecting the common frontier with Babylonia in the south, and holding off the warlike mountaineers on Assyria's eastern and northern borders, laid the foundations for her "manifest destiny" – expansion to the west. An Assyrian campaign down the Tigris to the Babylonian frontier and then up the Euphrates and Khabur rivers to rejoin the Tigris north of Ashur had become an annual event by the time of Tukulti-Ninurta ii (890–884); the petty chieftains of the Arameo-Hittite lands west of Assyria learned to expect swift retribution if they did not pay the tribute exacted on these expeditions. The "calculated frightfulness" of Ashurnaṣirpal ii (883–859) was graphically impressed on his visiting vassals by the reliefs he carved on the walls of his new palace at Kalhu (biblical Calah).
Under Shalmaneser iii (858–824), the Assyrian policy took on all the earmarks of a grand design. The repeated hammer blows of his armies were directed with an almost single-minded dedication and persistence against Assyria's western neighbors and brought about the first direct contact between Assyria and Israel. The battle of *Karkar in 853 pitted Shalmaneser against a grand coalition of Western states, including Israelites, Arameans, Cilicians, Egyptians, Arabians, Ammorites, and Phoenicians. King *Ahab of Israel contributed significantly to the infantry and more especially the chariotry on the allied side, which held the Assyrians to a draw if it did not actually defeat them. Ahab died within the year, but the coalition survived with minor changes, and met Shalmaneser four more times (849, 848, 845, and 841). Only after the last of these encounters could the Assyrian king truthfully claim the submission of the western states, and the triumphal march across the now prostrate westland by "Shalman" (i.e., Shalmaneser) was recalled more than a century later in the first explicit, if elliptic, biblical reference to an Assyrian king (Hos. 10:14) other than the legendary Nimrod. The extinction of the Israelite house of Omri ensued in the same year, together with the accession of *Jehu in Israel, the Omride Queen *Athaliah in Judah, and *Hazael in Damascus. The prompt submission of Jehu and other kings is graphically depicted on Shalmaneser's Black Obelisk which conceivably preserves not only the first but the only contemporary pictorial representation of an Israelite figure known from the Bible.
Shalmaneser's reign nevertheless ended in disaster. His last six years (827–822) were marked by revolts at home and the loss of all his western conquests abroad, and not until 805 did Assyria reassert itself there. It was Adadnirâri iii (810–783) who, by relieving the Aramean pressure, was regarded as a veritable deliverer in Israel (ii Kings 13:5), and his stele from Tell al-Rimah records the grateful tribute of *Jehoash of Israel (797–82) among others. However, Assyria was not yet strong enough to reclaim its western conquests. Urartu (biblical *Ararat), a state based around Lake Van in the later Armenia, rallied the remnants of the Hurrian populations who had fled upper Mesopotamia in the wake of the mass migrations at the end of the Bronze Age, and now sought to restore its influence in Northern Syria. Throughout the first half of the eighth century, Assyrians, Arameans, and Urartians thus fought each other to a standstill in Syria while the Divided Monarchy briefly regained the economic strength and territorial extent of the Solomonic kingdom. Israelite tradition reflected the memory of these four decades of her resurgence and Assyrian weakness by attaching the legend of the near-collapse of Nineveh to *Jonah, a prophetic contemporary of Jeroboam ii (793–753; sole rule 781–53) or, conversely, by assigning the Jonah of legend to the reign of Jeroboam (ii Kings 14:25).
the late iron age (c. 750–540 b.c.e.)
The last two centuries of Mesopotamian independence under Akkadian-speaking rulers restored first Assyria and then Babylonia briefly to a preeminent position in the Near East, and brought these lands into almost constant contact with the West. They left an indelible impress on both Hebrew and Greek sources which, until the decipherment of cuneiform were, in fact, virtually the only materials for the recovery of Mesopotamian history. The accession of Nabunasir (Nabonassar) in Babylonia in 747 seems to have been regarded by the native sources themselves as ushering in the Mesopotamian revival. The scribes of Babylon inaugurated a reform of the calendar which systematized the intercalation of a 13th month, on the basis of astronomical calculation rather than observation, seven times in every 19 years, according to the so-called Metonic cycle; taken over later by the Jews, it continues as the basis of the Jewish lunisolar calendar to the present. Babylonia was by now divided largely between urbanized Chaldeans and still mainly rural Arameans, and since the Chaldeans soon became the principal experts of Babylonian astronomy, the very word *Chaldean came to be equated with "astronomer, sage" in Hebrew (Dan. 2:2), Aramaic (Dan. passim), and Greek. These astronomers now began to keep monthly diaries listing celestial observations together with fluctuations in such matters as commodity prices, river levels, and the weather, as well as occasional political events. Perhaps on the basis of the last, they also created a valuable new historiographic record, the Babylonian Chronicle, into which they entered the outstanding events of each year. In the Ptolemaic Canon, the "Nabonassar Era" was recognized as a turning point in the history of science by Hellenistic astronomy. Nonetheless, Nabonassar himself was but a minor figure. When he enlisted the help of his greater Assyrian contemporary Tiglath-Pileser iii (744–727) in his struggles against both Chaldeans and Arameans, the step proved as fateful as did that of *Ahaz of Judah (735–716; sole ruler 731–716) against the Syro-Ephraimite coalition. Tiglath-Pileser iii was a usurper, the beneficiary of still another palace revolt that had unseated his weak predecessor. He and his first two successors changed the whole balance of power in the Near East, destroying Israel among many other states, and reducing the rest, including Judah, to vassalage. They found Assyria in a difficult, even desperate, military and economic situation, but during the next 40 years they recovered and consolidated its control of all its old territories and reestablished it firmly as the preeminent military and economic power in the Near East. Only the outlines of the process can be given here.
Tiglath-Pileser's first great campaign against the West (743–738) involved organizing the nearer Syrian provinces under Assyrian administration, regulating the succession to the king's liking in a middle tier of states, and waging war against the more distant ones. The semiautonomous Assyrian pro-consulates were broken up into smaller administrative units, and their governors thereby deprived of the virtually sovereign power which the interval of royal weakness had allowed them to assume. The Urartians were conclusively driven out of northern Syria, and the northern and eastern frontiers were pacified (737–735). The second great campaign to the west (734–732) was in response to Judah's call for help according to ii Kings 16:7 (cf. ii Chron. 28:16) and reduced Israel to a mere fraction of its former size as more and more of the coastal and Transjordanian lands were incorporated in the growing empire or reduced to vassalage. If Israel was allowed to remain a vassal for now, it was because the king's attention was briefly diverted by the rebellion of Nabu-mukin-zeri (Mukin-zeri) in Babylonia (731–729). When this was crushed, Tiglath-Pileser himself "seized the hands of Bel," that is, he led the statue of Bel (Marduk) in procession in the gesture of legitimation and ostensible submission to the Marduk priesthood that was traditionally demanded of Babylonian kings. As the first Assyrian king who ventured to take this step since the ill-fated Tukulti-Ninurta i, he was duly enrolled in the Babylonian King List (see above) under his nickname of Pulu, a name that passed, more or less intact, also into the later biblical and Greek accounts of his reign (ii Kings 15:19; i Chron. 5:26).
His short-lived successor, Shalmaneser v (726–722), followed this example, reigning in Babylon as Ululaia, but left few records of his reign in Assyria. His greatest achievement was the capture of Samaria in 722 and the final incorporation of the Northern Kingdom into the Assyrian empire, but the event is better attested in the Babylonian Chronicle and the Bible (cf. especially ii Kings 17:6; 18:10) than in the Assyrian annals. He is thoroughly overshadowed by his successor. Sargon ii of Assyria (721–705) took the name of the great founder of the Akkadian empire and lived up to it. He founded the last royal house of Assyria, called Sargonid after him. Perhaps the most militant of all the neo-Assyrian kings, he conducted a major campaign every single year of his reign (or had his annals edited to this effect); he frequently led the army in person and commissioned elaborate reports of his exploits en route in the form of "open letters" to the god Ashur; he even died in battle on his last campaign, a fate unknown for Mesopotamian kings since Ur-Namma of Ur. His major opponents were Merodach-Baladan ii, the Chaldean who tenaciously fought for Babylonian independence; the Elamites, allied with Babylon at the great battle of Dêr before the Iranian foothills (720); the supposedly impregnable island fortress of Tyre, which he finally reduced to submission; and Egypt, which for the first time was defeated by an Assyrian army and forced to pay tribute. The rump kingdom of Judah was no match against a figure of this stature, and *Ahaz wisely heeded Isaiah's counsels of caution. When the accession of *Hezekiah (715–687) restored the anti-Assyrian party in Judah, retribution was not slow in coming. In 712, Sargon dispatched his commander in chief (turtānu; cf. the tartan of Isa. 20:1) against Ashdod, a city allied with Judah, which was captured. The recent discovery of steles of Sargon at Ashdod, on the one hand, and in western Iran (Godin Tepe) on the other, typify the monarch's far-flung exploits, as does his death on the northern frontier.
The accession of Sennacherib (704–681) marked a new phase in Assyrian imperialism. No longer did the Assyrian army march annually towards new conquests. Only eight campaigns occupied the 24 years of the new monarch, besides two conducted by his generals. Assyrian power was approaching the natural limits of which it was capable, and new thrusts into distant border regions were probably defensive in inspiration. Although the warlike ideals of their forebears continued to color the records of the later Sargonid kings, the impression of sustained militarism that they create is an exaggerated one. The real spirit of the time is revealed, on the one hand, by such marvels of civil engineering as Sennacherib's aqueduct at Jerwan and, on the other, by the greatly increased attention to administrative matters reflected in the growing amount of royal correspondence. Literature and learning too came into their own, and the vast library assembled by Ashurbanipal at Nineveh is only the most dramatic expression of the new leisure.
The new Pax Assyriaca was, of course, not unbroken by military campaigns. Sennacherib's unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem in 701 is well known from both the Assyrian and biblical accounts (ii Kings 18:13–19:37; Isa. 36–37). His generals campaigned against Cilicia and Anatolia (696–695), while his successor Esarhaddon (680–669) is perhaps most famous for his conquest of Egypt. Esarhaddon had succeeded to the throne in the troubled times following his father's assassination (cf. ii Kings 19:37; Isa. 37:38), and was determined to secure a smoother succession for his own sons. The vassals of the empire were therefore forced to swear to abide by his arrangements, and the treaties to this effect, excavated at Calah, have proved a new key to the understanding of Deuteronomy. The king's planning at first bore fruit, and for 17 years his designated successors ruled the empire side by side, Ashurbanipal from Nineveh and Shamash-shum-uk-îm from Babylon. However, in 652, war broke out between the two brothers. After four years of bloody warfare, Ashurbanipal emerged victorious, but at a heavy price. The Pax Assyriaca had been irreparably broken, and the period of Assyrian greatness was over. The last 40 years of Assyrian history were marked by constant warfare in which Assyria, in spite of occasional successes, was on the defensive. At the same time the basis for a Babylonian resurgence was being laid even before the final Assyrian demise.
Ashurbanipal had installed a certain Kandalanu as loyal ruler in Babylon after crushing his brother's rebellion. When this regent died in 627, however, Babylonia was without any recognized ruler for a year. Then the throne was seized by Nabopolassar (625–605), who established a new dynasty, generally known as the neo-Babylonian, or Chaldean dynasty. Although the Assyrian military machine continued to be a highly effective instrument for almost 20 years, Nabopolassar successfully defended Babylonia's newly won independence and, with the help of the Medes and of *Josiah of Judah (639–609), finally eliminated Assyria itself. The complete annihilation of the Assyrian capitals – Nineveh, Calah, Ashur, Dur-Sharrukin – between 615 and 612 is attested in part by the Babylonian Chronicle and even more tellingly in the contemporaneous world can still be measured in the prophecies of *Nahum, and possibly of *Zephaniah. Only Egypt remained loyal to Assyria, and Pharaoh Neco's efforts to aid the last remnants of Assyrian power at Haran under Ashur-uballiṭ ii (611–609) were seriously impaired by Josiah at Megiddo in 609. The last Assyrian king fled Haran in the same year, and Assyrian history came to a sudden end.
Four years later, the Battle of *Carchemish (605) consolidated the Babylonian success with a defeat of the Egyptians by the crown prince, who presently succeeded to the throne as Nebuchadnezzar ii (604–562) (see Map 3). The Chaldean empire fell heir to most of Assyria's conquests and briefly regained for Babylonia the position of leading power in the ancient world. Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Jerusalem and Judah, with the exile of the Judean aristocracy to Babylonia, is the most famous of his many triumphs, but his own inscriptions prefer to stress his more peaceful achievements. These certainly matched his foreign conquests. He reconstructed Babylon in its entirety, filling it with magnificent temples and palaces and turning the city into one of the wonders of the ancient world. Its fame traveled far and wide with those who had seen it, and even after its destruction by Xerxes in 478, its ruins fired the imagination of later ages. Even Nebuchadnezzar's contemporaries were moved by his achievements to catalog the topography of the restored capital in all its details, thus providing an unrivaled description of an ancient city. Among its more noteworthy sights were the ziggurat (ziqqurratu), the famous hanging gardens, and the museum attached to Nebuchadnezzar's new palace. Here the king and his successors brought together statues, stelae, and other inscribed relics of the then already long antiquity of Mesopotamia. This neo-Babylonian interest in the monuments of the past thus complemented the neo-Assyrian efforts to collect the literary heritage of Babylonia that climaxed in the creation of the library of Ashurbanipal.
The same antiquarian interest characterized the rule of Nabonidus (555–539), who succeeded to the throne of Babylon after the three brief reigns of Nebuchadnezzar's son, son-in-law, and grandson. He was not related to the royal Chaldean house, although he was the namesake of a son of Nebuchadnezzar, whom he had served as a high diplomatic official as early as 585. The biography of his mother, Adad-guppi, is preserved on inscriptions from Haran, from which we learn that she lived for 104 years (650–547). Her long devotion to Haran and its deity may help to explain her son's similar, but more fateful, preoccupation. Virtually alone among the former Assyrian strongholds, Haran recovered some of its old glory under the neo-Babylonians and survived for many centuries thereafter as the center of successive forms of the worship of the moon-god Sin. According to Adad-guppi's biography, Haran lay desolate (that is, in the possession of the Medes) for 54 years (610–556) until, at the very beginning of the reign of Nabonidus (555–539), a vision informed him, in words strangely reminiscent of Isaiah 44:28–45:1, that Marduk would raise up "his younger servant" Cyrus to scatter the Medes. In obedience to the divine injunction, Nabonidus presently rebuilt the great temple of Haran, and reconsecrated it to Sin. At the same time, he singled out the other centers of moon worship, at Ur in Babylonia and at the oasis of Temâ in Arabia, for special attention. The latter move, which carried Babylonian arms for the first time all the way to Yatrib (modern Medina), was particularly fateful. Though it may have been inspired by reasonable strategic or even commercial considerations, it was regarded as an act of outright madness by the Babylonians and as a self-imposed exile of the king by later legend. The Book of *Daniel associates this sojourn of seven years (or, in the cunei-form sources, ten years) in the desert with Nabonidus' more famous predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, but new finds from Qumran show that other Jewish traditions linked it with the correct king. In any case, his sojourn in Arabia was resented by the population of Babylon, and the veneration of Sin there and at Haran and Ur was regarded as a veritable betrayal of Marduk, the national deity. Led by the Marduk priesthood, Babylon turned against Belshazzar, the son whom Nabonidus had left behind at the capital, and delivered the city into the waiting hands of Cyrus the Persian. In a bloodless conquest (539), he assumed control of all of Babylonia and rang down the curtain on the last native Akkadian state.
Assyriology in its widest sense is the scientific study of all those civilizations which employed one or another of the cuneiform scripts; defined more narrowly, it is the study of the languages, literature, and history of ancient Babylonia and Assyria. Because the earliest documents were found in excavations in Assyria (northern Iraq), the discipline received the name "Assyriology." The native language of both Assyria and Babylonia (southern Iraq) was Akkadian, with "Assyrian" and "Babylonian" referring to the respective dialects.
early explorations of cuneiform sites
The collapse of the Assyrian and Babylonian civilization was so complete that its cities and remains were either wiped off the earth or buried under it, and its peoples, art, languages, and writings were erased from the memory of history. The very names of its cities, rulers, and gods were forgotten except in sundry local traditions, in the neglected works of Arab geographers, and in scattered and garbled allusions in the Bible and in Greek literature. Only the finds of modern archaeology have been able to reveal the character, achievements, and enormous contribution of this civilization and its great contribution to the civilizations that came after it.
early excavations in assyria
In 1842, the first English and French expeditions began a determined search for the lost cities and treasures of Mesopotamia that occupied the next four decades. Its most conspicuous successes were scored in the northeastern part of the country, ancient Assyria, and the whole field of study thus newly opened soon acquired the name of Assyriology. The first spectacular discoveries were made at Khorsabad, where Paul-Emile Botta excavated D-r-Sharrukin, the great capital city built by *Sargon ii of Assyria at the end of the eighth century b.c.e. (1843–44) The paintings and drawings made in situ by E. Flandin for Botta's five magnificent volumes (1849–50), and the original sculptures with which the Louvre opened its Assyrian Gallery in 1847 opened Western eyes to the grandeurs of Assyrian archaeology. From 1852 to 1855, Victor Place resumed the French efforts at Dur-Sharrukin. In the meantime an Englishman, Austen Henry Layard, had already begun to excavate the other great Assyrian capitals, beginning with Kalah (Nimrud) in 1845, Nineveh (the twin mounds of Kuyunjik and Nebi Yunus) in 1846, and Ashur (Qalʿat Sherqat) in 1847. The seven seasons of excavation by Layard were crowned with very impressive discoveries of the palaces of *Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal at Nineveh and the palace of Ashurnaṣirpal at Kalah, of the many stone reliefs and colossal statues which stood at their gates; the great majority of these were transfered to the British Museum and elicited wide public response. Layard was succeeded in 1851 by his assistant Hormuzd Rassam, a native of Mosul. By 1854, the latter had succeeded in recovering the bulk of the great library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, which to this day remains the most important single source of Akkadian literature. Thereafter, the Crimean War brought all excavation in the area to a temporary halt. In 1872, George Smith, who examined cuneiform texts for the British Museum, discovered a version of the flood narrative which was recognized later as the 11th tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, and interest in further excavations was renewed. For four years Smith continued to mine the vast treasures of the library at Nineveh until an early death overtook him on the way back to Aleppo (1876). From 1878 to 1882, H. Rassam renewed his activities in Nineveh, but interest in Assyria was for the time being exhausted as attention was directed instead to Babylonia.
the recovery of the sumerians
Until the 1870s, impressive results were not had from the archaeological investigation of the southern half of Mesopotamia. However, in 1877 Ernest de Sarzec began to unearth Lagash (Tellōh) "The mound of the tablets," and by 1900 he had laid bare a whole new civilization whose very existence, adumbrated by the Assyrian tablets, had until then been a matter of dispute: the Sumerian civilization. These excavations and those which succeeded them helped to bring to light a whole new millennium in human history. American excavations at Nippur, meanwhile (1889–1900), uncovered the religious capital and center of learning of the Sumerians, with a library rivaling that of Ashurbanipal in importance, and antedating it by more than a thousand years. The origin of the Sumerians is unknown, and their non-Semitic language seems to have no affinities with other known languages. Other Babylonian expeditions before World War i identified numerous other ancient sites apart from Babylon, such as Sippar, Borsippa, Shuruppak, Adab, and Kish. Improvements in stratigraphic techniques in the field and the cumulative evidence of the inscriptional finds permitted the gradual construction of a chronological sequence and the recognition of certain significant cultural epochs. The extensive French excavations at Susa in Elam, begun in 1897, also proved significant, for this ancient capital of Elam was for millennia a faithful mirror of Mesopotamian influences, and the repository of some of its most precious booty, notably the "Stele of *Hammurapi." inscribed with his laws. The American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to widespread looting, illegal sale of antiquities, and the destruction of significant elements of the archaeological record.
trends and prospects
New centers and new names have contributed their share to postwar Assyriology. American influence has been strongest in the lexical field, with Benno *Landsberger and the Oriental Institute at Chicago leading the way (Materialien zum sumerischen Lexicon, and The Assyrian Dictionary (almost complete in 2005), and the recovery of Sumerian Literature by S.N. Kramer and Thorkild Jacobsen. Vigorous studies are also being pursued in the homelands of the cuneiform sources, notably Turkey and Iraq. There are very active centers in Germany, France, and Italy, and also in Austria, Holland, Finland, and Israel.
Substantial syntheses of the materials already recovered are likely to occupy the attention of most Assyriologists for some time to come. In textual terms, such syntheses include (1) critical editions of literary or "canonical" compositions; (2) tabular compendia of the data contained in economic or "archival" tablets, using computer technology where necessary to cope with the large numbers of texts and entries; (3) new editions of the historical, religious, and votive texts of all periods and areas, together with the monuments on which they are found, to serve as a sound basis for the chronological outline on which all other historical judgments must rest. When these three fundamental syntheses have been achieved, the way will be open for the modern interpretation of the cunei-form evidence and its full integration into the record of human achievement.
[William W. Hallo]
The comprehension of the Bible has greatly benefited from the utilization of the results of Assyriological investigations. The following survey serves only as a collection of examples of contributions of Assyriology to biblical studies, as well as discussing Mesopotamian culture in more general terms.
HISTORY AND CHRONOLOGY
A great deal of historical information concerning the Near East during the period 626–594 b.c.e. is derived from a group of tablets known as the Babylonian Chronicle. Of immediate value is the chronological data provided by these tablets. According to the chronicle, the battle of Carchemish which is mentioned in Jeremiah 46 as taking place in the 5 fourth year of *Jehoiakim of Judah, was fought in the spring of the year 605 b.c.e. The month of Elul in the same year marks the accession of Nebuchadnezzar to the throne of Babylon. According to the Babylonian method of reckoning regnal years, Nebuchadnezzar's first year started in April 604 b.c.e. It is also learned from these tablets that on the second day of Adar in the seventh year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, which corresponds to March 15/16, 597 b.c.e. according to the Gregorian calendar, King *Jehoiachin of Judah surrendered the city or Jerusalem to the Babylonians, after ruling for only three months (ii Kings 24:8–20). These dates serve as fixed points for those scholars who wish to calculate the chronology of the last years of the Kingdom of Judah. Among other features of interest to Bible scholars found in the Babylonian Chronicle is the tablet that covers the events of the years 616–608 b.c.e., during which time the Assyrian capital of *Nineveh fell to the Medes and Babylonians, and so provides us with background information to the prophetic book of *Nahum. Another feature of interest is the description of the defeat and flight of the Egyptian army after the battle of Carchemish, which is remarkably similar to the description of the same event in Jeremiah 46. It should not be assumed that a reference in cuneiform sources to a person or event recorded in the Bible will automatically amplify or clarify the biblical notice. It is entirely possible that such evidence may only complicate an already complex problem. Nevertheless, any discussion of a particular problem must take into account any evidence available from Mesopotamian sources.
A great deal of effort has been expended in order to establish the chronology of the mid-monarchial period in Israel. *Ahab, king of Israel, is the earliest biblical personage mentioned in cuneiform historical sources. According to a stele of Shalmaneser iii, king of Assyria, Ahab was alive in the year 853 b.c.e. He was in fact one of the major participants in the battle of Karkar which was fought in that year. This battle which temporarily checked the Assyrian invasion of Syria is, curiously enough, not mentioned in the Bible (see *Karkar). An important synchronism between Assyria and Israel is to be found in the stele of Nergal-ereš (L. Page, in: Iraq, 30 (1968), 139ff.). According to this stele Joash, king of Israel was on the throne of Israel in the year 802 b.c.e. According to the Masoretic Text of the Bible, 57 years elapsed from the death of Ahab until Joash ascended the throne. The Assyrian evidence points to a period of 51 years between the two kings. In order to solve this problem, some scholars resorted to various Greek versions and the Assyrian sources. A similar situation surrounds that event whose shadow looms large in the prophetic literature of the last century of the existence of the Judahite kingdom, namely, the defeat of *Sennacherib before the gates of Jerusalem in 701 b.c.e. The biblical account of this event is to be found in ii Kings 18–19 as well as in Isaiah 36–37. Sennacherib's own record of this event is also available. The biblical account of the siege appears to be inconsistent. According to ii Kings 18:13–16, *Hezekiah, king of Judah, surrendered to Sennacherib and paid tribute to him. The Assyrian account in the main agrees with this account, though it differs on the amount of the tribute paid by Hezekiah.
The term cuneiform law has usually been understood to denote the legal practice, and the records bearing on that practice, in those cultures or political entities in the Ancient Near East that used Sumerian or Akkadian cuneiform as their written medium. Taken in this sense, the realm of cuneiform law embraces not only the heartland of the cuneiform world, that is, ancient Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria, but also the Elamite territory to the east of the Mesopotamian plain, the Syrian coast, and its immediate hinterlands from northern Syria down to Palestine, and especially the Hittite Empire which included practically all of Asia Minor. It must not be thought that these territories together constituted a homogeneous area in which a fairly uniform type of legal structure was in force. The homogeneity consists rather of the uniformity, or near uniformity, of a literary tradition that began in the scribal schools of southern Mesopotamia and spread with time to all the territories which are included in the definition of cuneiform culture. In all the areas thus named, cuneiform was employed as the regular written medium, at least for some period of time between 3000 and 300 b.c.e.
In the Ancient Near East the notion of "law" was inseparable and virtually indistinguishable from "justice" and the judicial process, and the idea of "law" suggested to the Mesopotamian mind- and, more or less, to the consciousness of all the peoples of the Ancient Near East – violations of existing obligations, including obligations to the state and society as well as private (i.e., civil) ones, but not the obligations themselves, insofar as the Mesopotamians did not think in terms of "law" in the context of specific regulatory institutions. The documentary sources from which knowledge of cuneiform law may be derived are to be divided into a number of categories. Primary among them are the large number of private records of judicial cases which were heard in, and adjudicated by, the courts. These cover many kinds of incidents and situations, most of which fall within the realm of property law. Litigations, as far as they are preserved, deal primarily with the disposition of family property and suits which may arise among members of a family or between two families over rightful ownership of certain real estate or other property. Contracts between individuals concerning sale, rental, and marriage and adoption agreements also constitute an important category for knowledge of cuneiform law. Here, too, the topic for the most part is property. A lesser number of documents fall into the category of private legal records, such as litigations concerned with matters that may be designated as private torts or crimes, which ought preferably to be subsumed under the more generic name, wrongs. For the present purpose, wrongs may be understood as invasions against persons or property by someone who held no prior claim or right against the victim or the object of this action. Punishments for such acts are not distinguished in terms of the category of the act itself, but rather in terms of the degree of seriousness of the offense or the amount of aggravating circumstances involved in it and could vary all the way from the requirement of simple restitution or pecuniary fine to the capital penalty.
Cuneiform private and public correspondence includes references to judicial or quasi-judicial acts that have a bearing on the practice of law in ancient Mesopotamia. The correspondence of private persons very often contains reports about dispositions of property in accordance with established customs, or possibly some references to legal action, which usually concerned questions of property. The correspondence of officials, including that of rulers, naturally concerned every area of political and economic administration, as well as other subjects, and occasionally mention materials directly pertinent to the subject of law. Among these are to be found the relatively scarce references to situations which would fall under the rubric of criminal law, as opposed to civil matters, with which all the other categories of private documents are almost exclusively concerned. Thus among the letters of Hammurapi of Babylon and of his older contemporary Rîm-Sin of Larsa there are references to official corruption and how the king dealt with it, and a royal order for the execution of an individual charged with homicide.
The category of material that may be defined as literature provides still another source of information about the legal institutions of the area. From sources such as proverbs, didactic compositions of various kinds, wisdom literature, and even from epics and legends, may be culled a not inconsiderable amount of information about legal behavior in ancient Mesopotamia.
Although these categories of documents constitute the only body of evidence for the actual practice of law in the cuneiform civilizations, the private documents must be utilized in a systematic way for the reconstruction of the real legal institutions of these societies themselves. It is often difficult also to assess the degree to which usages and procedures observed in the private documents represent true and fast "rules" or at least established custom; they may represent nothing more than the momentary whims of kings and officials without having the status of fixed rules or precedents. This condition contrasts with the formal legal corpora, which at least pretend to represent rules designed for application in all like cases and conditions, and which certainly represent the consensus on ideal moral and legal practice within the societies for which they were propounded.
By far the largest source of information, and the one which has usually been considered the primary source for knowledge of the legal institutions of ancient Mesopotamia, has been that formed by the so-called legal codes, most famous of which is the document known as the "Code of Hammurapi." Many fundamental questions may be raised as to the propriety of construing these legal codes as a reflection of the true legal institutions they purport to represent. There is sufficient evidence to indicate that these documents are more appropriately to be viewed not as legal codes in the strict sense but as representing a very special genre of literature of the oldest that were cultivated in Mesopotamian civilization. This view is based on both internal analysis of the documents themselves and external evidence. We cannot enter here into a detailed presentation of the case for our position; it will be sufficient to indicate that these so-called codes bore little relation, if any, to the ongoing legal practice in the very areas where they were formerly assumed, to have been in force. Nevertheless, this article will be concerned with these codes more than with any other genre of text bearing on Mesopotamian legal institutions, for the simple reason that they are fairly straightforward, have for the most part been carefully edited, and are readily accessible to layman and scholar alike. Moreover, despite our reservations about their reliability as indicators of legal conduct in ancient Mesopotamia, they do form an important clue to the legal thinking that prevailed in that civilization at different times. In addition, inasmuch as we have almost no actual case law surviving from ancient Israel (there is a judicial plea from Mesad Hashavyahu and documents from the Jewish colony at Elephantine in Egypt of the fifth century b.c.e.), it makes sense to compare the two theoretical corpora, the Mesopotamian law codes and the Bible.
The major bodies of legal rules are listed below, in chronological order. The "middle chronology," which sets Hammurapi's reign at 1792–1750 b.c.e. will be followed; the "high" chronology sets these dates about 60 years earlier, the "low" about 60 years later; the letters enclosed in brackets are the abbreviations which will be used to refer to individual corpora in the ensuing discussion:
The Laws of Ur-Nammu of Ur [lu] (21st century b.c.e.)
The Laws of Lipit-Ishtar of Isin[ll] (c. 1950 b.c.e.)
The Laws of the Kingdom of Eshnunna [le] (c. 1800 b.c.e.)
The Laws of Hammurapi of Babylon [lh] (c. 1792–1750 b.c.e.)
The Assyrian Laws [al] (c. 1400–1100 b.c.e.)
The Hittite Laws [hl] (c. 1400–1300 b.c.e.)
There are in addition lesser groups of laws of diverse dates and origins, such as a very fragmentary group from Cappadocia of the Old Assyrian period (c. 1900 b.c.e.), scattered groups of Sumerian laws, and a small group of laws from the Neo-Babylonian period.
The legal corpora exhibit many similarities both in style and content. There is a remarkable unanimity of expression throughout, whether the language of the individual corpus be Sumerian – as are lu and ll – Akkadian, or Hittite. This unanimity, which can be traced to the traditions of the scribal schools, manifests itself in duplications of thought and verbal formulation. Most of the rules are presented as sets of postulated acts or circumstances viewed as having occurred in the past or constituting an existing condition, followed by the prescribed sanction for each respective set of circumstances, which is to be viewed as the "decision." Depending on the type of case at hand, the sanction may be penal, civil, or simply in procedural prescription for a case which consists of some "unusual" circumstances not involving any "wrongs". Sometimes the judgment consists only of a denunciatory characterization of the offense without specification of the penalty to be imposed, a phenomenon largely restricted to the Hittite code. Variations in the circumstances of what may be essentially a single situation are treated for the most part as separate "cases" since they entail appropriate variations in their respective rulings.
The usual arrangement of the rules in the corpora is by groups dealing with the same general topic. There appears to be no discernible rationale, however, for the order in which these larger groups or topics are taken up. In some cases, after a subject has been treated in a number of rules presumably considered adequate by the authors or editors of a legal corpus, the transition to the next topic is effected by some suggestive similarity or common element between the first rule of the new subject and the preceding rule. It may be noted that lh, of all the cuneiform law corpora, appears to be the most rationally organized. The arrangement there is by topical, rather than by legal principles, but even this rationale is not uniformly followed. In the other corpora the arrangement seems to be much more arbitrary both as to the order of the topics treated and the order of the individual rules comprising a given topic.
The division of the different corpora into legal "clauses," "laws," or "paragraphs" is in some cases dictated by ruled lines inscribed on the original tablets, as in the case of al, hl, and the excerpt tablets of ll, while the division into separate "laws" of le and lh is the work of the first modern scholars who edited these texts, no indication for such divisions being given in the originals. Generally speaking, a single set of circumstances and the ruling that applies to it are treated as a separate "law" or "paragraph." al, however, often combines sets of varying circumstances of a single basic situation, together with their appropriate rulings, into a single "paragraph." Thus Tablet a of al, ruled off into some 60 sections in the original text, contains in fact many more separate rules or "laws" than that. hl, on the other hand, sometimes divides into two "paragraphs" what is essentially a single rule, and sometimes two unrelated rules are combined into a single paragraph. The numbering of the laws or "paragraphs" in the separate law corpora must therefore not be taken as more than a rough approximation of the actual number of distinct rules contained in each corpus; the standard numbering is best viewed as an aid to facilitate modern reference, with the actual number of separate rules to be determined by closer textual analysis in each case.
Apart from the agreement among the various corpora on the classes of subjects chosen for inclusion in their texts, and the more specific literary relationship among the corpora of Lower Mesopotamia, there is also substantial agreement among the corpora with respect to the sanctions that apply in the individual cases. Especially noteworthy in this connection are those cases where the sanctions are pecuniary, the damages often being identical or very close in amount among the several corpora. Such points of agreement constitute a more reliable index of the degree of uniformity of legal custom and usage in the Ancient Near East than those cases and fields in which penal sanctions apply, e.g., the sexual offences, such as rape (only of women who are married or preempted for marriage ["engaged"] by payment of a bride-price), adultery, and incest, all of which involve the death penalty; for these latter are acts which in almost any civilized society would be treated as the gravest of offenses, warranting the summary death of the offender. In all the codes, including the Bible, the death penalty is most often meted out for sexual offenses (E. Good, Stanford Law Review 19 (1967), 947–77).
Wherever the law corpora treat homicide and bodily injuries in any detail, it is evident that they distinguished between premeditated acts, non-intentional acts, accident, and negligence, the penalties increasing in direct proportion to the degree of guilt, with injuries or deaths which are the result of negligence regarded as more serious than accidental or even non-intentional acts. Homicide resulting from negligence such as faulty house-building that caused the death of an occupant, was treated as a serious offense, and could bring the death penalty to the builder or a member of his family. However, the owner of a dangerous animal such as a goring ox was subject only to pecuniary damages. Talionic punishments ("an eye for an eye") appear to have been an innovation in the Laws of Hammurapi, since the earlier corpora prescribe only pecuniary damages for injuries resulting from assault and battery. Even in lh the talionic penalty was limited to assaults upon the upper classes, which is an indication that such actions were viewed more gravely than similar acts against the lower classes. However, it should be stressed that talionic punishments and penalties of physical mutilation are rarely attested in documents referring to actual cases, and very likely were hardly ever resorted to. The victim of an eye gouging would have in most cases preferred monetary compensation. The talionic rules in the biblical law collections are probably equally to be viewed as an ideal principle of justice and equity. The non-talionic laws of Ur-Namma 18–22 (M. Roth, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor (1995), 19) permit a rich man to maim anyone so long as he pays the stipulated fines. The talionic punishments subject the offender to physical punishment.
An offense may be termed "criminal" when it is viewed as inimical to the well-being of the society as a whole and when the sanction is imposed by the public authority and not necessarily in the interest of any private party who may have been directly injured by the offending act. A "religious" offense, if subject to regular and predictable sanction, was thus a criminal offense. According to these criteria, sorcery is a criminal offense. It is already so treated in lh, which prescribes the penalty of death by drowning (i.e., through the river ordeal) and can be traced through lh, al, hl, and finally in biblical law. Blasphemy and sedition, and insurrection appear to constitute another group of offenses treated early as criminal, e.g., al 2 (blasphemy and sedition by a woman), and hl 2:173 (opposing the decision of the crown and the elders). The character of the offense in the example from hl is clearly indicated by the inclusion in the same paragraph of the case of the slave who rebels against his master. This, in turn, indicates that the offense of the wife in lh 143, for which she was to be cast into the water, involved some overt act of disloyalty to her husband in addition to profligacy, and from this it may be assumed a fortiori that similar acts of disloyalty or sedition against the crown or the religious order were dealt with in Babylonia with at least equal severity.
It is often noted that the legal corpora of the Ancient Near East are almost exclusively concerned with "secular" or "civil" law, in contrast to the biblical corpora in which "civil" and "cultic," or religious, rules are intermingled without apparent differentiation. hl, however, includes a number of cultic rules organized as a consecutive group, which indicates that the compiler of the corpus was conscious of the distinctive character of this group of rules. All the offenses in this group deal with violations, in one way or another, of real property, but the interesting feature of all of these rules is that there is no mention of any pecuniary or related form of penalty for these acts (apart from restitution wherever applicable); the expiation of these wrongs consists solely of ritual purification and sacrificial offerings. The conclusion is therefore inevitable that in Hittite society the institution of private real property was invested with the aura of religious sanctity, transgressions against which constituted a ritual defilement as well as a civil injury.
It may be said that the reason the law corpora of the cuneiform civilizations of the Ancient Near East appear to us to deal almost exclusively with "civil" or secular" law is not that the compilers of these corpora deliberately excluded religious subjects from their interest, but that "religious" laws were almost totally irrelevant for the general public; the public was rarely in a position to commit purely "religious" offences. Because the Torah in its final form is the product of the theocracy of the period of the Second Temple, we find the intermingling of "religious" and "secular" laws. The Torah makes no distinction between "religious" and "civil" offenses, nor, in terms of its own ideological orientation, would it have been meaningful for its writers to have introduced such distinctions into their legal structure.
The most common Akkadian term relating to the sphere of law is dīnum. The often-expressed notion that this term denoted statutory law is in error. The term dīnum denotes a case which is actually or hypothetically before the court. It comprises the statement of the facts of a given case, the court proceedings in its adjudication, and the verdict or decision of the real or hypothetical judge. The rules which comprise the Laws or Code of Hammurapi, for example, are nothing but a collection of hypothetical cases and their respective rulings as propounded by Hammurapi in his role of the supreme judge. They do not constitute law in that they cannot, and probably were not even intended to, serve as binding precedents for similar cases.
Another term which had wide currency in the Old Babylonian period, particularly during the dynasty of Hammurapi, is ṣimdatum, which in the older literature on the subject has been taken to mean "statutory laws." It occurs most often in the expression "according to the royal ṣimdatum" or simply "according to the ṣimdatum." The two phrases may be used interchangeably, and must have the general sense of "according to the regular, or established, procedures [governing the specific situation]." The ṣimdatum is, therefore, to be understood as the entire established body of legal tradition, of which some aspect is to be invoked in the particular instance where the ṣimdatum is alluded to. When a text refers to the "ṣimdatum of the king" the phrase is to be understood in the broad sense as, e.g., "the laws of the crown, of the realm" of which the particular reigning monarch is only the guardian, not the author.
Finally, there occurs frequently in legal contexts the term mīšarum or mēšarum; it denotes the quality of "equity" or "balance," "equilibrium" and, hence, "justice." The achievement and maintenance of this "balance" is viewed as the primary function and duty of the king. The periodic royal decrees and edicts which are sometimes referred to as mīšarum acts are specific measures directed towards this end. In different periods and different reigns the content of these measures would vary in accordance with the immediate situation. Hence the name mīšarum edict does not describe a measure of a specific or fixed content, but is something of an epithet attached to measures announced by the king, usually early in his reign, which are designed to remedy particular economic imbalances, and which thereby seek to assure the populace that the new ruler has truly dedicated himself to the advancement and maintenance of justice. These measures entailed cancellation of certain types of debts, release from certain kinds of tenant obligations, and freedom from servitude for debt. Not all obligations were cancelled for all the people on such occasions, but the edict specified the classes of persons, cities, and types of obligations which were to be affected by each act. References to such acts are found in the year-dates of the rulers of the Old Babylonian period, but to date only two texts are known which are devoted to the specific measures that such royal pronouncements entailed. These are the edicts of Samsu-iluna (c. 1750 b.c.e.), Hammurapi's son and successor, and of Ammi-ṣaduqa (c. 1650 b.c.e.), the fourth successor to the throne in Babylon after Hammurapi, and next-to-the-last of the line. It must be kept in mind that such edicts were directed by the promulgating authority to the immediate situation only, and were in no way intended to become the permanent "law of the land." Nor was there any rule which dictated the issue of such decrees at regular intervals, or for having the provisions contained in them take effect automatically at such times, as was the case of the biblical rules for the *Sabbatical year and the Jubilee.
One might conclude by characterizing law in ancient Mesopotamia as being essentially a congeries of local customary systems, which kings periodically attempted to make uniform or "reform" for administrative efficiency. These attempts, however, were at best of limited effectiveness even at the time of their promulgation. Doubt may even be raised concerning the degree to which the so-called lawgiver intended to have his precepts enforced and whether he disposed of a bureaucracy that was really capable of assuring such enforcement. These law codes, however, remain of prime historical value as an index to the morals, ethical notions, and institutions prevailing at the time of their publication.
The centrality of law in life is a theme common to both Israel and Mesopotamia. There are, in fact, laws that are common to both societies, even in their wording. Thus, the Laws of Eshnunna paragraph 54 reads: "If an ox is known to gore habitually and the ward authorities have had the fact made known to its owner, but he does not have his ox dehorned [?] it gores a man and causes [his] death, then the owner of the ox shall pay two-thirds of a mina of silver" (trans. by A. Goetze, in: aasor, 31 ;. Roth, Law Collections, 67), and the code of Hammurapi paragraph 251 reads, "If a man's ox is a gorer and his ward authorities had informed him that it is a gorer but he did not cover its horns or tie up his ox and that ox gores a free man and causes his death he shall pay one half mina of silver." A parallel law is to be found in Exodus 21:29: "If, however, that ox has been in the habit of goring, and its owner, though warned, has failed to guard it, and it kills a man or a woman – the ox shall be stoned and its owner, too, shall be put to death." Mesopotamian law, apart from the monetary penalty that the owner must pay, contains no penalty provision as far as the ox is concerned. Hebrew law requires that the owner of the ox be executed (according to Ex. 21:30 he can redeem himself), and that the ox likewise be executed. Moreover, the ox is to be killed by being stoned, and its flesh is not to be eaten.
Yet these laws, as similar as they may appear to be, reflect the basic difference between the Israelite and Mesopotamian legal systems. The codes of Mesopotamia are essentially secular codes in that they treat only matters concerning the conduct of one human being towards another. The relationship between the human and the divine is not regulated, nor are religious sanctions used to back up the essentially secular laws. In Israelite legal theory as articulated in the Bible, religion and law are intertwined. All law ultimately derives from God. Violations of religious law are punishable by human courts, and religious sanctions are applied as well as secular sanctions. Mesopotamian law contains no provisions regarding the goring ox itself. Israelite law requires that the ox be stoned, and its flesh is not to be eaten. The underlying principle of biblical law derives from the concept of the sanctity of human life connected with a certain concept of divinity as expressed in Genesis 9:5–6, "For your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of humans too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every human for that of his fellow-human! Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall his blood be shed; for in His image did God make the human." In the law of the goring ox this concept finds full expression in the penalty meted out to the ox.
Ancient Mesopotamian literature commonly refers to the vast – and as yet far from complete – body of writings in cuneiform script which has come down from Ancient Mesopotamia. It is mostly found on clay tablets on which the writing was impressed when the clay was still moist. The writing reads, as does the writing on a printed English page, from left to right on the line, the lines running from the top of the page downwards. There are indications, however, that cuneiform writing once read from top to bottom and then, column for column, from right to left. The tablets when inscribed were usually allowed to dry naturally, occasionally, if durability was of the essence, they were baked at a high temperature to hard ceramic.
Except for a few excerpts in ancient classical writers from a book by the Babylonian priest Berossus, nothing at all was known either about cuneiform or the literature written in it until explorations and excavations – beginning shortly before 1800 c.e. – focused attention on the cultural treasures that lay hidden in the ruined city mounds of Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia, which corresponds to present-day Iraq, was in antiquity divided into a northern part, Assyria, and a southern part, Babylonia, also called Karduniash or Chaldea. The border between them ran approximately east-west a little above modern Baghdad. In still earlier times, Babylonia too was divided into a northern part, Akkad, and a southern part, Sumer, the dividing line running east-west a little above Nippur. Reliable copies of cuneiform inscriptions had been brought back by Carsten Niebuhr, only survivor of a Danish expedition in 1767 c.e. In 1802 c.e. a young German teacher, Grotefend, made the first substantial advance in decipherment of the difficult script. He was followed by the Englishman Rawlinson, who independently had reached conclusions similar to Grotefend's. With Rawlinson, the Irish scholar Hincks should be mentioned. Around 1860 c.e. the decipherment was essentially achieved.
Of the greatest importance, both for the help it proved in the decipherment and for the interest it created in wider circles, was the fortunate fact that English excavations at Nineveh came upon the remnants of a great library collected around 600 c.e. by one of the last Assyrian kings, Ashurbanipal. Historical texts from this library, as well as inscriptions found in other Assyrian palaces, threw new light upon personages and events dealt with in the Bible: occasionally Assyrian words would help the understanding of a difficult biblical idiom and, most striking of all, a story about the Deluge, remarkably similar to the biblical account, was among the finds.
Unfortunately, the importance of the tablet find did not immediately dawn on the excavators, so no efforts were made to keep together fragments that were found together; rather everything was simply dumped in baskets. As a result, scholars to this day are hard at work piecing fragments of Ashurbanipal's library together, and the finding of a new "join" is a source of great joy and satisfaction.
The content of the library was rich and varied, ranging from literary works in the strict sense of belles-lettres, to handbook literature codifying the knowledge of the times in various arts, sciences, and pseudo-sciences. Of particular importance for the decipherment were the lexical texts found. They gave precious information about how the multi-value cuneiform signs could be read. They also contained grammatical and lexical works dealing with a new and unheard of language, ancient Sumerian. This language, which preceded Akkadian (that is Assyrian and Babylonian) as vehicle of ancient Mesopotamian culture, has no relative among known languages and would almost certainly have proved impenetrable had not the Library of Ashurbanipal provided ancient grammars, dictionaries, and – most important of all – excellent and precise translations from Sumerian to Akkadian, its many bilingual texts.
Comparable in many ways to the find of the Library of Ashurbanipal was the find to the south, in Nippur, of what was at first believed to be a temple library belonging to Enlil's famous temple there, Ekur. Further exploration has shown, however, that the tablets in question come from private houses, and it seems probable that they represent the "wastepaper baskets" of scribal schools carted over and used simply as fill in the rebuilding of private houses.
The content of these – also mostly broken and fragmentary – tablets is the early Sumerian literature as it survived in the schools, during the period when Sumerian culture was coming to an end in the first centuries of the second millennium b.c.e. Here too, a great task of reconstructing the works involved from fragments awaited the scholars, a task still far from complete. Besides the two large finds here described, mention should also be made of important discoveries of texts in smaller libraries in Ashur found by the German excavation there, and a later, surprising find of tablets in the mound of Sultan Tepe by an English expedition.
The earliest evidence of writing from Mesopotamia – or indeed from anywhere – dates back to around the middle of the fourth millennium b.c.e. to the period known variously as the Protoliterate period or Uruk iv. Before this, however, literature doubtlessly existed in Mesopotamia in oral form, and as such it probably continued alongside written literature for long spans of time. The uses of writing were from the beginning those of aiding memory and of organizing complex data, as is well illustrated by the two genres that comprise the earliest written materials: sign lists and accounts. In time, new genres evolved from these genres: lexical texts, derived from sign lists; contracts and boundary stones, derived from accounts of gifts that accompanied a legal agreement to serve as a testimony to it; and, as a new departure, monumental inscriptions: votive and building inscriptions; and the letter, originally, as shown by its form, an aide-mémoire for the messenger delivering it as an oral message.
The use of writing as a means to organize and remember data underlies such genres as date lists and king lists. However, it is quite late that this power to organize complex data is fully utilized, with the creation of canonical series and handbooks, a development which begins in Old Babylonian Times and culminates in the Kassite period around the middle of the second millennium b.c.e.
The oral literature, in the meantime, while continuing in its own medium, must gradually have explored the possibilities of using writing as an aid in memorizing. While the innately written genres were, as has been seen, in general oriented toward serving as reminders and organizing data, the genres which originated as oral genres, and only secondarily took written form, had as a whole a different aim. A magical aspect may be distinguished in oral literature, retained in its pure form in the genre of incantation, where the spoken word is meant to call into actual existence that which it expresses; the more vivid the incantation, the more effective it is, a fact which accounts for its being cast in literary, or even poetic, language and form. The incantation was the province of a professional performer, the incantation priest (Sum. mašmaš, Akk. ašipu). A very similar magical purpose also seems to underlie other genres rooted in oral tradition. Myth, epic, and hymns to gods, temples, and kings, all had the purpose of praising somebody or something, and in so doing – as in a blessing – of enhancing or calling into being in the object of the praise, the virtues ascribed to it. This magical dimension of praise can still be seen to be very much alive in the short hymns of praise or blessings spoken by the incantation priest to the various materials he uses in his magical ritual, the so-called Kultmittelgebete, blessings intended to call up in these materials the powers and virtues attributed to them in the blessing. The praise takes in myths and epics the form of narrative presentations of great deeds of gods and heroes, originally, seemingly, to achieve by presenting them a vitalizing of the power to which they testify. In hymns, the praise usually takes the more static form of description of great qualities.
The praise genres were the province of a professional performer, the bard, Sumerian nar, Akkadian nāru, who sang to the accompaniment of a small lyre-like instrument held in the hand. The basic character of the myths, epics, and hymns he recited is indicated by the standard ending for them found over and over again; zag-mì nn, "Praise be nn" where nn is the name of the god, hero, or temple sung about. On the basis of the praise it offered up, the lyre was also called zag-mì, "praise." The bard (nar) was a cherished member of the court of the Sumerian ruler and is depicted reciting at royal banquets, on monuments from around the middle of the Early Dynastic Period.
A praise of a special kind was the lament, the praise of values lost. The lament genre may plausibly be assumed to have originated as lament for human dead and from there to have been extended to use in the rituals marking the death of the god of fertility in his various forms, and to rituals seeking the rebuilding of a destroyed temple. Actually, however, only very few elegies for human dead have come down to us, and on the whole, examples of laments of any kind do not antedate the Third Dynasty of Ur. The genre of laments was the province of a professional performer, the elegist (gala). He was, like his colleague the bard, a fixture at the Sumerian rulers' courts, ready to soothe the dark moments for his master by his elegies. He played, as the texts show, a major role at funerals.
Besides the genres mentioned, there were a number of others which made their way from oral into written form, most of them, as far as one can judge, of a popular and informal character with no professional performers in charge of them, but presented as occasion arose by whoever felt like it. Among these were love songs, generally placed in the mouth of women and dealing with gods and kings; wisdom texts, including proverbs and disputation texts pitting different evaluations against one another; didactic compositions such as the so-called Farmer's Almanac; letters to gods with prayer for personal misfortune; and copies of royal diplomatic correspondence, of royal inscriptions of various periods, of legal decisions by courts, and others not lending itself easily to literary classification.
The Agade period (ca. 2340–2159) in which rulers of Semitic origin adopted Sumerian culture, introduced a distinctive type of votive inscription detailing military achievements. From later copies two works credited to the daughter of Sargon of Akkad, Enheduanna, the first named author in history, who served as high priestess of the moon-god Nanna in Ur, are known. One is a series of short hymns to each of the major temples of Sumer and Akkad, the other is a long, impassioned plea to the goddess Inanna. The short Gutian period that followed the Agade period is notable mainly for works produced when it ended. A vivid account by Utu-hegal of Uruk of his war of liberation against the Gutians to "return the kingship of Sumer into its own hands" survives in later copies. To Utu-hegal's reign may also be assigned the composition of the great Sumerian King List, though other scholars prefer a slightly later date. To the end of the Gutian domination belong, furthermore, the famous cylinders a and b of Gudea, inscribed with a hymn to the temple of Ningirsu in Girsu as rebuilt by Gudea. They recount in wonderfully pregnant classical language the divine command to build, the building itself, and lastly the organization of the divine staff serving the needs of Ningirsu and the feast marking the completion of the work.
The perfection and ease of style in the Gudea cylinders show that Gudea's reign was a golden age of literature. In fact under him and in the following period of Ur iii, may be placed the main burst of creativity that created Sumerian literature as now known and as it was preserved and handed on in the schools of the Isin-Larsa and Old Babylonian periods which followed Ur iii.
The Standard Body of Sumerian Literature
An outline of the content of Sumerian literature as it took form around the period of the Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2113–2000 b.c.e.) and was added to and transmitted in the schools of the following Isin-Larsa Period (c. 2000–1763 b.c.e.) can most conveniently be given in terms of the genres discussed in the general section above.
myths, epics, and hymns
Myths. The Sumerian myths seem to be devoted to a relatively small number of major deities only; Enlil, Ninurta, Enki, Inanna, and Dumuzi are the central figures in most of them. The myths about Enlil include the following:
(1) "Enlil and Ninlil: The Birth of the Moon-god," which tells how Enlil when he was young took Ninlil by force, was banned from Nippur by the assembly of the gods and set out for the Netherworld. Ninlil, who had become pregnant with the moon-god, followed him and on the road, in various disguises, Enlil persuaded her to lie with him to conceive another child to take the moon-god's place in the Netherworld. Thus three further divine children were engendered, all chthonic in character.
(2) "Enlil's wooing of Ninlil," a second, more conventional version of Enlil's wooing of Ninlil when she was yet a young girl in her mother's house in Eresh. Even in this tale Enlil is depicted as impetuous, but here he commits no wrong.
(3) "The Creation of the Pickax," a short tale relating how in the beginning Enlil forced Heaven apart from Earth to make room for things to grow, fashioned the pickax with which he broke the crust of the earth in Uzumua, "Where Flesh was grown," a sacred spot in Nippur, to uncover the heads of the first men growing out of the earth like plants, and how he then let the other gods share in the use of the pickax and the human workers.
The myths about Enlil's son Ninurta, god of the plow, of the thunderstorms in spring, and of the yearly floods, are mainly two.
(1) Lugal-e, a myth telling how Ninurta went to war in the mountains to the east against the Asakku, a demonic being engendered on Earth by Heaven, whom the plants had elected king. After a pitched battle Ninurta was victorious. He then built the near ranges, the ḥursag, as a dam, directed the waters from the mountains into the Tigris to provide irrigation water for Sumer, presented the ḥursag as a gift to his mother Ninlil when she came to see him, and gave her the name Ninhursaga(k), "Queen of the ḥursag." After that Ninurta satin judgment on the stones, some of which had opposed him viciously in the war. His judgments on them determined the character and qualities they now have. The section about the dolerite, a stone imported by Gudea for his statues, suggests that the myth was written, or perhaps added to, in his reign.
(2) A second myth about Ninurta known as An-gimdim4-ma tells how Ninurta, as he nears Nippur in full panoply of war, is met by Enlil's vizier Nusku, who bids him lessen his clamor and not disturb Enlil. Ninurta answers huffily with a long boastful speech, but is calmed down and is made to enter Nippur peacefully by his barber, Ninkarnunna.
(3) A third myth "Ninurta's Pride and Punishment" seems to tell that Ningirsu, at Enki's behest, captured the thunder-bird Ansud who had stolen the tablets of fate from Enki. He had obviously hoped thus to obtain the tablets for himself, but when Ansud released them from its claw they returned to Enki in Apsu. Ninurta then, by bringing on a flood, sought to take over from Enki by force, but was outwitted and imprisoned in a pit dug by the tortoise, where Enki severely chided him for his ambitions.
It may be questioned whether the myth just told is best considered a Ninurta or an Enki myth. Clearly its sympathies are with the latter. Clever Enki, the god of the fresh waters in rivers and pools, was one of the most beloved subjects of the mythmakers. Among tales about him may be mentioned the following:
(1) "Enki and Ninhursaga" in which Enki presented the city on the island of Tilmun (modern Bahrain) to Ninhursaga, provided it with water and made it an emporium. He then united with Ninhursaga, engendering a daughter with whom in time he united, again engendering a daughter, and so forth. At last, when he has lain with Uttu, the spider, goddess of weaving, Ninhursaga removes his semen from Uttu's body and throws it on the ground. Seven plants grow up and Enki in time appears, names, and eats the plants. This makes him very ill, but eventually Ninhursaga is mollified and helps him give birth to the seven goddesses which have grown in his body from the plants. The myth ends with their being married off.
(2) "Enki and Ninmah" tells how the gods complained about having to do the hard work of irrigation agriculture, how Enki had his mother Namma give birth to man to relieve them, and how at the party to celebrate Namma's delivery Ninmah, another name for Ninhursaga, boasted that she could alter man's shape for good or bad at will. Enki accepted the challenge, saying that he could find a living for anything she might make, and then fashioned five freaks of various kinds, for all of whom Enki provided a job. When the roles were reversed, however, and Enki tried his hand at mischief, the being he created was afflicted with all the ills of old age, which thus came into the world, Ninmah being unable to do anything to help.
(3) As organizer of the world, Enki appears in "Enki and World Order" in which at Enlil's behest he organized the world much as one would organize an estate, determining first the character of the major cities in Sumer, then arranging for the sea, the rivers, clouds, and rain, then instituting economies such as agriculture, herding, etc., placing appropriate gods in charge, and lastly having to pacify the goddess Inanna, who did not think she had been given enough offices.
(4) The text which would be called the "Eridu Prehistory," which deals with the creation and settling of humans, creation of animals, the antediluvian cities, and the flood, is probably to be classed as an Enki myth since he is the hero of the Flood story. It is he who warns his worshiper Ziusudra against Enlil's wrath afterward.
As popular with the mythmakers as Enki, or even more so, was his granddaughter Inanna, city goddess or Uruk and one of the most complex figures in the Mesopotamian pantheon. She seems to combine features of a goddess of stores, a rain-goddess, and a goddess of the morning and evening star. The myths picture her as a young unmarried girl of the aristocracy, proud, willful, jealous, and power-hungry.
(1) In one of the myths about Inanna, "Inanna and the Powers of Office," she is pitted against her wily grandfather Enki. Arriving on a visit to him in Eridu, she is properly feasted and Enki, drinking deep, confers in his expansive mood one important office after another upon her. When he wakes up sober next morning he rues his prodigality, but Inanna is gone. He still tries to stop her boat and get the offices back but in vain, and Inanna triumphantly brings them into Uruk.
(2) The myth of "Inanna and Ebeh" tells of the victory of Inanna over the mountain Ebeh (modern Jabel Hamrin) and consists mainly of a series of speeches glorifying her prowess in one form or another.
(3) Another myth, "Inanna and Bilulu," tells how Inanna hears about the killing of her young husband, Dumuzi, composes a paean in his honor, and then sets about avenging him on his killers Bilulu and her son Girgire.
(4) The longest of the myths about Inanna is the one called "Inanna's Descent." It tells how Inanna took it into her heart to descend to the Netherworld to wrest control of it from her elder sister Ereshkigal. The venture ended in disaster and Inanna was killed and changed into a cut of meat gone bad. Her loyal handmaid, Ninshubur, seeking help for her, finally obtained it from Enki, who fashioned two beings who were to win Ereshkigal's favor by expressing compassion for her. They did so, and when in return she granted them a wish, they asked for the meat that was Inanna and brought her back to life with food and water of life that Enki had given them. Still Inanna was not permitted to leave the Netherworld unless she could provide a substitute for herself, and so a posse of Netherworld deputies were sent along with her. As they met persons close to Inanna on their way – all dressed in mourning for her – she balked at giving them over to the demons. Only when in Uruk they found her young husband Dumuzi festively dressed and enjoying himself, did hurt and jealousy make her turn him over to the deputies. He, terrified, appealed to the sun-god, Utu, Inanna's brother and Dumuzi's brother-in law, to change him into a gazelle that he might escape his pursuers. Utu did so, and Dumuzi escaped but was again captured. This repeated itself three times, but in the end there was no way out for Dumuzi, who was taken to the Netherword. His sister, Geshtinanna, seeking him, found him there with the help of the Fly, and the myth ends by Inanna rewarding or punishing the Fly – it is not clear which – and dividing the stay in the Netherworld between Dumuzi and his sister so that they alternate, each of them spending half a year only in the Netherworld, the other half they are up with the living.
The myth about Dumuzi's repeated flights and captures, which forms the second half of "Inanna's Descent" exists also, with only slight modification, as a separate tale,
(1) "Dumuzi's Dream," which relates how Dumuzi had an ominous dream, and sent for his sister Geshtinanna, who interpreted it as foreboding his death. Attempting to hide from the deputies who came to carry him off, Dumuzi was betrayed by a colleague and caught. His subsequent appeal to Utu, his escape, etc., runs parallel to the story in "Inanna's Descent." A more cheerful myth is
(2) "Dumuzi's Wedding," which begins by relating how Inanna sends messages to her bridal attendants, including the bridegroom, Dumuzi, inviting them to bring their gifts. They do so, and the story goes through all the stages of a Sumerian wedding: the bridegroom arriving with his gifts, the bride having her bath and dressing in all her finery before opening the door to him, which is the symbolic act concluding the marriage, Dumuzi leading his bride to his own home, stopping on the way to visit his own tutelary god, and his reassuring of his nervous young bride that she will not be asked to work hard or do any tiring tasks in her new house.
The epics, which deal with great and memorable deeds of men rather than of gods, are more immediately accessible than the myths, which often presuppose a knowledge of what the gods stand for, which is not easily come by. Most of the epics that have come down to us center around rulers of the First Dynasty of Uruk. This was the dynasty from which the kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur thought themselves descended, and it seems likely that what has been transmitted is in effect a choice aimed at the taste of that court, perhaps as it changed with time from one king to the next.
Closest to the effect of primary epic with its emphasis on martial valor and honor is perhaps the following:
(1) The epic tale "Gilgamesh and Agga (Akka; cos i, 550–52)." It tells how Gilgamesh, vassal ruler of Uruk under Agga of Kish, persuades him to resist performing its corvée duties with weapon in hand. Agga and his longboats soon appear before Uruk's walls. Only Gilgamesh himself is valiant enough to make a successful sortie. He cuts his way to Agga's boat and takes Agga captive. Having thus proved himself, however, he grandly sets Agga free and even reaffirms his overlordship, all in gratitude for the fact that on an earlier occasion Agga had taken Gilgamesh in when the latter sought his protection as a fugitive.
(2) Also in some degree warlike in spirit, but with distinct romantic overtones of the strange and the far away, is the tale of "Gilgamesh and Huwawa," which tells how Gilgamesh, to win fame, undertakes an expedition against the terrible Huwawa in the cedar mountains in the west. The adventure nearly ends in disaster, but by deceit Gilgamesh gets Huwawa in his power and, when he is nobly inclined to spare him, Huwawa rouses the anger of Enkidu, Gilgamesh's servant, who promptly kills him.
(3) A mythical element enters into the tale of "Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven." The city goddess of Uruk, Inanna, has offered Gilgamesh marriage and has been rudely refused. To avenge herself, she asks the loan of the fierce "bull of heaven" from her father Anu. Anu reluctantly grants her wish. Contrary to expectations, however, the bull does not manage to kill Gilgamesh, but is itself slain by him and Enkidu.
(4) Gilgamesh exhibits a quite different friendly, attitude toward Inanna in another story, "Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld". In this tale, Inanna finds a tree drifting on the river, pulls it in, and plants it, in the hope of making a bed and a chair from its wood when it is fully grown. By that time, however, the tree has been taken over by the Ansud bird, the demoness Lilith, and a great serpent. In her disappointment she turns to Gilgamesh, who scares off the unwelcome guests, fells the tree, and gives her wood for her bed and chair. From the tree stub and the branches he makes what seems to be a puck and stick for some hockey-like game, and celebrates the victory with a feast. At the feast, however, a waif, who has no one to take care of her, utters a cry of protest to the god of justice and fairness, Utu, and Gilgamesh's puck and stick fall into the Netherworld. Enkidu offers to go down and bring them up and Gilgamesh instructs him in how to behave so as not to be held back down there. Enkidu, however, disregards the instructions and so must remain in the Netherworld. All Gilgamesh can do is to obtain permission for Enkidu's ghost to come up to see him. Enkidu's ghost then ascends through a hole in the earth, the two embrace, and in answer to Gilgamesh's questions Enkidu tells him in detail how people are treated in the hereafter.
(5) A badly damaged tale called "The Death of Gilgamesh" will be dealt with later when the genre of elegiac epic is discussed.
To the romantic epic with its penchant for the strange and fantastic belongs also the "Lugalbanda Epic," the hero of which is listed in the Sumerian King List as the successor of Enmerkar and predecessor of Gilgamesh, separated from the latter by one Dumuzi, a fisherman from Kuar. According to other traditions, Lugalbanda was the father of Gilgamesh.
In the epic called after him Lugalbanda is still a young man. It relates how Enmerkar calls up his army for a campaign against the city of Aratta in the eastern highlands. On the march, Lugalbanda falls seriously ill and is left to die in a cave (ḥurrum) in the mountains by his fellows. He partly recovers, however, and begins fervently to pray to the gods for help. The gods hear his prayers and as he roams the mountains he comes upon the nest of the thunderbird, Ansud, gains its favor, and is granted, at his own wish, supreme powers of speed and endurance. The bird also helps him find his way back to the army, and there, among his comrades, Lugalbanda completely recovers. The army reaches Aratta and begins a long siege of it. However, after a while Enmerkar's zest for the task wanes and he wishes to send a message back to Uruk to Inanna, upbraiding her for no longer caring enough for him; she must choose between him and her city Aratta. There is, however, no messenger who dares undertake the hazardous journey. At last Lugalbanda volunteers, and successfully carries the message to Inanna. She receives him well, hears Enmerkar's message, and advises Enmerkar to catch a certain fish on which Aratta's life depends. Thus he will put an end to the city. Its craftsmen, handiwork, copper and moulds for casting, he can then take as spoil.
There are two other epics of which Enmerkar is the hero: "Enmerkar and Suhkesdanna" and "Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta." The first of these is a romantic epic verging on fairy tale. It tells how Ensuhkesdanna of Aratta sent messengers to Enmerkar in Uruk, demanding that he submit to Aratta since Ensuhkesdanna could provide a temple of lapis lazuli and a richly adorned couch for the rite of the sacred marriage with Inanna, while Enmerkar had but a temple of mud brick and a bed of wood to offer. The demand is, as could be expected, proudly refused, and Ensuhkesdanna then wishes to obtain his demands by force of arms. The assembly in Aratta is not willing to support him in this, however, and so he is temporarily at an impasse. Then an incantation priest (mašmaš) and magician at his court offers to use his powers to have a canal dug to Uruk and to have the inhabitants load their possessions on boats and haul them to Aratta. Ensuhkesdanna is delighted and rewards him richly. The magician then sets out from Aratta, and arriving on his way at Nidaba's city Eresh near Uruk he persuades – since he can speak the language of animals – the cows and goats there to stop giving milk, thus interrupting the cult of Nidaba. At the complaint of the herders, a learned amazon goes up against him in a sorcerer's contest in which both cast fish spawn into the river and pull out animals: the magician, a fish, and the amazon, a bird, which flies off with the fish; the magician, an ewe and its lamb, the amazon, a wolf that runs off with them, and so forth. After the fifth try the magician is exhausted, it becomes dark before his eyes, and he is all confused. The amazon chides him, saying that while his wizardry is plentiful, his judgment is sadly lacking in that he has tried his wizardry against the holy city of Nidaba. So saying, the amazon seized his tongue in her hand and, denying his plea for mercy on the grounds that his crime was sacrilegious, killed. Word of his fate reached Aratta, and Ensuhkesdanna, much sobered, acknowledged the preeminence of Enmerkar.
The other epic about Enmerkar makes of the rivalry between Enmerkar and the lord of Aratta a battle of wits, a test of which of them is most competent as ruler. In its scale of values, peaceful compromise seems to win out over military solutions. It begins by telling how Enmerkar appealed to Inanna to make her other city, Aratta, subject to Uruk, so that its people would bring down stone and other precious building materials as tribute to Uruk for Enmerkar's temple building. Inanna grants his wish, tells him to send a messenger to Aratta to demand submission, and withholds rain from Aratta, in order to put pressure on it to submit. The ruler of Aratta at first rejects the demand, but when he is told that Inanna sides with Enmerkar he accedes pro forma: he will submit if Enmerkar will send grain to relieve the famine caused by the drought, but this grain must not be sent in sacks, it must be loaded into the carrying nets of donkeys. Enmerkar complies with this seemingly impossible demand by sending sprouted grain and malt, but is set a new similar, seemingly impossible condition. After he had complied with that and still another, he loses patience, however, and threatens to destroy Aratta. His angry message is too long for the messenger to remember, and so to help him Enmerkar invents the letter. When the messenger arrives in Aratta with the written letter and the lord of Aratta is pondering it to think of a new subterfuge, the god of rainstorms, Ishkur, apparently knowing nothing about what is going on, drenches the region around Aratta, producing a bumper crop. At this point, unfortunately, the text is incompletely preserved. From what we have, however, it is possible to gather that the conflict was resolved by the invention of trade and a peaceful exchange of goods follows. Thus Enmerkar is able to obtain his coveted building materials through peaceful means.
The later Dynasty of Agade, with its heroic figures Sargon and Narâm-Sin, formed a second, minor focus for the epic tradition. Sargon, the founder of the dynasty, figures in an unfortunately very fragmentary text in which he seems to have made the wife of his Sumerian opponent Lugal-zagge-si his concubine, but under what circumstances is not clear. Another, as yet unpublished, story tells how he was protected by Inanna at the court of Ur-Zababa of Kish when he was serving there as cupbearer. The figure of Narâm-Sin seems to have become the type of the self-willed human ruler challenging the gods in his hubris. The epic tale called "The Fall of Agade" tells, after describing the might and prosperity of Agade, how Narâm-Sin, wishing to rebuild Enlil's temple Ekur in Nippur, failed to obtain favorable omens that would allow him to do so. Yet, against Enlil's will, Narâm-Sin mustered his forces and began demolishing Ekur. Enlil in his anger called in the wild Gutian mountaineers, who disrupted all communication in the country and produced dire famine. Lest the whole country be destroyed, the major deities of Sumer then appealed to Enlil and succeeded in having the punishment focused on Agade as the actual offender. It was thoroughly cursed by the gods so that it would never again be inhabited.
Hymns to Gods
Praise, with its attendant effects of enhancement and expression of allegiance to persons and to values, can take descriptive as well as narrative form and becomes then hymnal rather than mythical or epic. Mesopotamian literature focused such hymnal praise particularly on three subjects: gods, temples, and kings. The resultant genres are not, however, kept rigidly apart, and sections of a hymn to a god may well be devoted to praise of his temple, just as hymning a temple generally includes praise of its divine owner. The royal hymns abound in addresses to the gods to assist and protect the king hymned.
Among major hymns directed to gods, there is reason to mention first the great hymn to Enlil of Nippur called Enlil suraše. It tells how Enlil chose Nippur as his abode, describes its sacred character so fiercely intolerant of all evil, moves on to Enlil's temple in it, Ekur, describes the latter's rituals and sacred personnel, and then Enlil himself as the key figure in the administration of the universe, planning for the maintenance and well-being of all creatures; it ends with a brief acknowledgement also of Enlil's spouse, Ninlil, who shares his powers with him.
Another remarkable hymn is a hymn to the sun-god Utu, which praises him as maintainer of justice and equity in the universe and the last recourse of those who have no-one else to turn to. Utu's sister, Inanna, is hymned as the evening star in a hymn of ten sections. It describes her role in judging human conduct, and ends with a description of her rite of the holy marriage as performed under Iddin-Dagan of Isin with the king embodying her divine bridegroom, Dumuzi. Other hymns dealing with this rite may be considered actual cult texts. Most likely they accompanied a performance of the ritual acts, for often they furnished a running account of what is done in the rite as seen by an observer at close quarters.
A very remarkable and ancient hymn to Inanna (cos i, 518–22) was written, according to Sumerian tradition, by a daughter of king Sargon of Agade, Enheduanna, who was high priestess of the moon-god Nanna in Ur. In the hymn, she has been driven out by enemies, feels abandoned by her divine husband Nanna, and turns in her distress to Inanna, the divine protector of her father and her family – and also, at that time, holder of the kingship of the gods. The description of Inanna in this hymn is that of a goddess of rains and thunderstorms.
Other hymns to goddesses of notable literary qualities are a long hymn to the goddess Nanshe in Nina emphasizing her role as upholder of morals and ethics, a long hymn to the goddess Nininsina praising her powers to heal and to drive out demons of disease, and a hymn to the goddess Nungal in Nippur, a prison goddess with strong Netherworld affinities. The hymn to her describes in detail the features of her temple, which serves as a place of ordeal and place where she judges and imprisons evildoers. It then moves into a self-praise by the goddess in which she lists her various functions and those of her husband Birtum. Many more such hymns could be mentioned, but these may suffice as examples of the genre and of the variety of treatment it allows.
A particular group of hymns to gods deserves, however, special mention: the "processional hymns." These are hymns meant to be sung as accompaniment on the occasion of ritual processions of the gods and on ritual journeys to visit other deities in other cities. Occasionally, as in the case of the composition called "The Journey of Nanna to Nippur," they approach narrative form, describing the stages of the journey by boat and Nanna's cordial reception by Enlil in Nippur before launching into a long catalog of the blessings bestowed upon him by Enlil to take along home to Ur. Somewhat similar hymns celebrate, respectively, Inanna's and Ninurta's journeys to Eridu, and a hymn of this kind, verging on both the myth and the hymn to temples in "Enki Builds Eengurra," which tells how Enki built his temple in Eridu, then traveled by boat to Nippur, where he invited the gods to a party to celebrate the completion of his new home, and where his father Enlil spoke the praise of it.
Hymns to Temples
Praise of temples looms large, as we have mentioned, in many of the hymns to gods. It may also be the main theme of a hymn. Such hymns to temples would seem to have been represented already in the Fara and Abu Salabikh materials. A particularly noteworthy example of the genre is a cycle of hymns to all the major temples in Sumer and Akkad composed by the already mentioned Enheduanna and faithfully copied in the schools for centuries afterwards. Even older, is the much copied "Hymn to the Temple of Kesh," which is already represented in the Abu Salabikh materials. The finest example of the genre is, however, a hymn which never entered the standard body of school literature: the great hymn to the temple of Ningirsu in Girsu, E-ninnu, written on the occasion of its rebuilding by Gudea. The hymn was originally written on three large clay cylinders, of which the second and third are preserved. It describes in detail the communication of Ningirsu's wishes to Gudea in a dream, the care taken to check that the god's message was correctly understood and to carry out the task correctly, the bringing of building materials from afar, the actual building process step for step, and finally the occupation of the new temple by Ningirsu, the appointment of its divine staff, and the concluding "housewarming party" for the gods.
Hymns to Kings
A suitable subject for hymning was also the king, and a great many royal hymns are extant. The oldest examples of the genre deal with Ur-Namma, the first king of the Third Dynasty of Ur. A high point of productivity was reached with his successor, Shulgi, who figures in more than 20 hymnal compositions, and the genre continues to be productive through the first half of the succeeding Isin Dynasty, at which point it begins to peter out. The last example is a hymn to Abi-eshuh of the First Dynasty of Babylon. The content of the genre is varied in the extreme. Many of the hymns deal with the election of the king by the assembly of the gods, or with divine favors showered upon him. Some contain appeals to the gods on the kin's behalf, and some – the royal hymns in the narrower sense – contain a sustained praise of the king, his abilities, e.g., as warrior or as scholar, his virtues, e.g., his sense of justice and fairness, and the prosperity he brought to the country. Frequently these hymns take the form of self-praise and are put in the mouth of the king himself.
Love songs, of which Sumerian literature has quite a few, may perhaps also be considered hymns of praise, albeit of a special distinctive character. Some of these are put in the mouth of the divine lovers, Dumuzi and Inanna, or deal with episodes of their courtship, in some the beloved is the king, particularly Shu-Sin of the Third Dynasty of Ur. These songs praise his physical attractions and express the longing and love of the girl who sings of him. It seems not unlikely that a considerable number of these songs were the work of a poetess in the circle around Shu-Sin; one would guess the lukur priestess Kubatum.
Whereas the praise in myths, epics, and hymns is directed toward extant values, in the elegiac genres it is focused on values lost and longed for. In elegiacs corresponding to the myth are narrative accounts of the death of gods; in those corresponding to the epic, accounts of the death of kings and heroes; and in those corresponding to the hymn, dirges for gods, temples, and kings, and in very rare cases for ordinary human dead.
A number of works whose central theme is the death and loss of gods may be characterized as elegiac myths. Among these are first of all a number of cult texts from the cult of the dying gods such as Dumuzi and Damu, apparently meant to be sung as accompaniment to ritual acts such as, e.g., processions into the desert to Dumuzi's deserted fold. An example of such an elegiac is "The Wild Bull Who Has Lain Down," in which Inanna seeks her dead husband, killed by the men of the Bison in the mountains. Another example is "The Bitter Cry For Her Husband," which tells of the attack on Dumuzi's fold, his escape, and his death as he tries to swim to safety across the swollen Euphrates in its flood. Many others could be quoted. Perhaps the longest such composition is Edinna u saga, "In the Desert in the Early Grass," a Dumuzi text with long insertions of related Damu materials. It tells of the disappearance of the god, and follows his mother and sister as they search for him. It relates how the rough deputies of the Netherworld tore him away from his mother in Girsu on the Euphrates, how she is determined to stand in the gate of their superior claiming her son back, how she asks the cane-brake about him, and how she finally takes the road of no return to the Netherworld. Eventually, it seems, it is his sister rather than his mother who reaches him there. A somewhat similar narrative dealing with Damu describes how his sisters wish to board the boat on which he is taken captive and bound to the Netherworld by a deputy from there, and how on arrival there the deputy's superior frees Damu. While these and other compositions seem to have been used in the cult, purely literary accounts of the attack on Dumuzi and his death are also found. One such is "Dumuzi's Dream" of which we spoke above under myths.
Elegiac epic may be defined as epic tales centering around the death of a king or hero, which do not, however, treat that death as heroic, but rather as pure loss. Such tales are "The Death of Gilgamesh," which we mentioned earlier. It treats of the death and burial of Gilgamesh and contains a long address to him by Enlil, in which Enlil tries to reconcile Gilgamesh to his mortality. Of particular interest in that it shows how old the traditions on which the epic genres build are, is the fact that this text has preserved memories of the ancient custom of having the servants of a ruler follow their master also in death. This custom, which existed in the times of Gilgamesh, is also attested to by the finds in the royal graves of Ur excavated by L. Woolley but must have been abandoned long before the times of the Third Dynasty of Ur. Another work in this genre is "The Death of Ur-Namma," which tells of the death and burial of Ur-Namma, of the honored role he is given in the Netherworld, and, in spite of this, his unhappiness about all he left behind him unfinished.
Laments for Gods
Lament for the dead god was a central part of the cult of most dying gods and many such laments are preserved. To the Dumuzi cult belongs the moving lament by his mother in "A Reed-Pipe – My Heart Plays a Reed-Pipe (Instrument) of Dirges for Him in the Desert" and many others. Most often there is an element of narrative, reflecting the fact that these laments were part of the ritual of going to the god's destroyed fold in the desert. The Damu laments likewise tend to alternate with narrative sections, but the lament of Aruru for her lost son, and the lament of Lisin are examples of pure laments.
Laments for Temples
As the loss of gods and kings was mourned, so were the great public disasters: destruction of cities and their temples at the hand of enemies. The lament was intended to soothe the emotions of the bereaved god and channel them, and thus prepare the way for divine will to restoration. To the genre of lament for destroyed temples belongs what is perhaps the highest achievement of Sumerian poetry, the magnificent and deeply moving "Lament for the Destruction of Ur," which deals with the capture and destruction of the city by the Elamites and the Sua people that ended the Third Dynasty of Ur. The vivid and very detailed, but much less powerful, "Lament for Ur and Sumer" (cos i: 535–39) deals with the same event. Among later laments there is the long "Lament for Nippur and Ekur" connected with the restoration of Ekur by Ishme-Dagan, which ends with a long section in which Enlil promises to restore the temple. Other laments for Ekur and for Inanna's temple in Uruk, eanna, popular in later times, go back to the end of the Isin-Larsa period. As in the Dumuzi laments, so in the laments for temples, narrative and lyrical sections alternate, the dramatic events around the day of destruction being told in all their stark detail.
Laments for kings and heroes in non-narrative lyric form have not so far been found, but two examples of dirges for ordinary mortals succeeded in entering the standard body of literature. They were written by a certain Ludingirra, one in honor of his father, the other on occasion of his wife's death.
Wisdom literature is not committed from the outset as are, each in its way, the encomiastic and elegiac works, but is rather discriminating and evaluative.
One of the most popular forms of entertainment and humorous examination of standard values was the dispute or logomachy, which seems to have flourished particularly under the rulers of the Third Dynasty of Ur, several of whom are referred to by name in these works. The usual pattern is a mythological introduction setting the action in the beginning of time, which is then followed by a lengthy dispute about their respective merits by the two contestants. Sometimes the end of the tale is a judgment by a god or the king, but other settings occur, and the text may launch directly into the debate. Examples of works in this genre are "Summer and Winter," "Silver and Copper," "Ewe and Grain," "Plow and Hoe," "Shepherd and Farmer," and others. As a rule, the more lowly contestant carries the day. A special group of such disputes have the school or the life of a scribe as a setting. Among these are "A Scribe and His Disappointing Son," in which a father details the many failings of his son – one senses that he has spared the rod too much – as also "The Overseer and the Scribe," in which the scribe lists the numerous services a scribe performs in a large household, "Enkimansum and Girniisag," a dispute between an obstreperous student and his tutor, and "The Dispute between Enkita and Enkihegal," which, as the disputants get more and more heated, deteriorates into a mere slanging match. It would seem that the ancient listeners must have derived a good deal of vicarious enjoyment from hearing of quarreling and listening to the unrestrained flow of bad language, for in this genre such things are frequent. Another example of it, perhaps the worst, is a vitriolic slanging match known as "Debate Between Two Women." The most interesting evaluative work of Sumerian wisdom literature is, however, probably the one called "Man and His God," in which a man complains about his god's neglecting him and the bad luck dogging him as a consequence. It is a Sumerian precursor, in some sense, of later treatments of the motif of the just sufferer and the earliest indication of awareness of the problem we have.
Apodictic and Didactic Wisdom Texts
Apodictic statements of do's and don'ts characterize the extensive proverb genre, which comprises actual proverbs, as well as all kinds of saws, turns of phrase, etc. and also includes short fables with pointed morals. A large collection of such saws was attributed to Shuruppak, father of the Sumerian hero of the Flood, Ziudsudra, and appear in the composition "The Instructions of Shuruppak" as this wise father's counsels to his son. This composition was, as mentioned, already in existence in the Abu Salabikh materials. The composition commonly called the "Farmer's Almanac," which is cast in the form of a father's – the plow-god Ninurta's – advice to his son, and describes in order all the standard activities to be carried out by a good farmer during the year, is apodictic and didactic insofar as it presents a norm for the activities of the farmer. Formally similar in many ways is the composition called "Schooldays," in which a schoolboy takes time out on his way to school to tell a questioner where he is going so early in the morning, and what he usually does in school.
The genre of incantations continues, and substantial collections of individual incantations begin to be made. There are three major types of incantation: (1) The first is the legitimation type, in which the incantation serves to identify the incantation-priest as the messenger and agent of a god-usually Enki – and as under his protection. It ends with a formula conjuring the demons in the name of heaven and earth. A similar type of incantation is (2) the so-called prophylactic type, which first describes the evil doings of the demons, then orders them to depart. Lastly (3) the Marduk-Ea type describes first the evil done by the demons, then how Asalluhe/Marduk sees it and asks his father Enki's/Ea's advice. Enki then states what ritual acts will serve as cure.
A variety of other types of writings, not easily classifiable, are found with works of the genres here listed. Mention may be made of such things as copies of royal inscriptions, of royal diplomatic correspondence, of noteworthy letters of various kinds – among them appeals to deities for help in illness and misfortune – riddles, copies of legal deliberations and decisions in the assembly of Nippur, lists of medical prescriptions, of legal formulas, and copies of law codes, among them those of Ur-Nammu and Lipit-Ishtar. In general these various memorabilia are examples of specific utilization of the organizing and mnemotechnical powers in writing. Not infrequently they stand at the beginning of new handbook genres developing in the second and first millennia.
Cuneiform writing seems to have been used to write Akkadian very early, perhaps already toward the end of the Protoliterate period. Apart from votive inscriptions and royal monumental inscriptions, however, there is little evidence of Akkadian literary activity. Economic texts, contracts, deeds, letters, a few incantations with perhaps a fragment of a royal hymn, seem to be all. It is not until Old-Babylonian times, around 1700 b.c.e., that more substantial literary activity in Akkadian is attested; quite possibly sparked by a tradition of, and an appreciation for, oral literature among the West Semitic Amorites, who by that time had entered Mesopotamia in large numbers and had furnished such a key ruling dynasty as the First Dynasty of Babylon.
Old-Babylonian literature is, however, clearly written in the country and builds in large measure on Sumerian materials. However, it treats these materials freshly, with notable originality and literary power.
The genres represented are first myths, with works such as the "Poem of Agushaya" which tells how Ea created the goddess Saltu, "Strife," to challenge the warlike goddess Ishtar (Agushaya) and the "Myth of Anzu" about the thunderbird which stole the tablets of fate from Enlil, and with them his powers of office. More impressive than these, though, is the remarkable "Myth of Atrahasis," which deals both with the creation of humans and their near destruction by flood (cos i, 450–53). The gods in those early days had to toil themselves as agricultural workers. After a while, in the first record in history of a strike, they rebelled and rioted in front of Enlil's temple in Nippur. Eventually a compromise was worked out by Enki: a god – presumably the ringleader in the rebellion – was to be killed, and from his flesh and blood man was to be created to take upon himself the toil of the gods. After a while, however, mankind grew so numerous and made so much noise that Enlil found it impossible to sleep. He tried various means to diminish their number and noise, but without lasting effect. Eventually he persuaded the other gods to bring on the Flood and thus to wipe out humanity entirely. Enki, however, as might have been expected, warned his protégé Atrahasis and had him save himself and his family and all species of animals in a big boat. Enlil's anger when he found that a human being had survived was appeased by Enki, who instituted a variety of measures – orders of nuns who were not to conceive and give birth, barren women, and demons killing newborn children – which would serve to hold man's numbers permanently within bounds. Man, the myth seems to say, must know his limitations. He has his place and his useful function in the Universe and will be tolerated by the powers that rule existence, as long as he does not make himself obnoxious to them. The genre of epics is represented by a fragment of the "Epic of Etana" (cos i, 453–57). Etana was the first king, and was carried up to heaven on the back of an eagle he had helped and befriended in order to fetch the plant of birth-giving so that his son could be born. Of special interest are a number of fragments dealing with Gilgamesh.
Hymns to gods and goddesses are well represented. One may mention the Papulegarra Hymn and a hymn to Ishtar with a prayer for Ammi-ṣaduqa. Examples of a new genre, the penitential psalm, which has parallels and perhaps antecedents in the Sumerian "Letters to Gods," makes its appearance. To the genre of love songs, or possibly that of disputes, may be counted a humorous dialogue between a girl and her somewhat naive young man. The dispute genre shows a debate between the tamarisk and the palm. Among the handbook genres mention may be made of the Akkadian "Laws of Eshnunna" and the famous "Code of Hammurapi." They continued – and show distinct influences of – the earlier Sumerian codes of Ur-Nammu and Lipit-Ishtar. Completely new is the prolific genre of omina, which clearly shows work of considerable length and advanced organization of the materials; also the genre of "Mathematical Problem Texts" with the famous Plimpton Tablet, which shows understanding of the laws governing the so-called Pythagorean Theorem, and the Sumerian grammatical texts, which operate with a most ingenious organization scheme, the one column grammatical paradigm.
standard babylonian literature
The Old-Babylonian period was followed by a dark age, concerning which little evidence is available. What happened to literature at this time is therefore in some measure a matter for surmise only, but it would seem that a process of selection took place. Only certain works and certain kinds of works survived; others, whether by accident or for reasons of changing taste, were dropped. At the same time there are indications of considerable literary activity during the later half of the Kassite period, from about 1400 b.c.e. onward. The nature of this activity was to a great extent ordering and canonizing, utilizing more fully the possibilities for organizing and preserving large and complex bodies of data. At this time, therefore, major series were put together and a standard text established for genre after genre. The result was an emphasis on the informational and utilitarian aspects of literature, rather than on its aesthetic qualities, which is evident not only in the relative number and length of texts in the belletristic and the more practically oriented genres and the vigor and productivity of the latter, but also in the fact that genre like hymns, laments, and prayers through the setting of the texts in instructional framework appear to move toward what have been called the handbook genres. In the belletristic genres proper the spirit of the age leads toward the establishing of relatively large epic cycles such as, e.g., the 12-tablet Gilgamesh epic, trend which was already discernible in the standard body of Sumerian literature. The standard Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, for instance, will, with its 12 tablets have covered well over 3,000 lines when complete. Similarly, the appreciation of repetition and ornate description seems to grow. In the genre of laments, for instance, a composition can often be followed from its concise form in the time of standard Sumerian literature to a vastly enlarged, interminably repetitious form which almost makes such narrative elements as it has impossible to follow, in standard Babylonian literature. In part, perhaps such treatment is explicable from the use of the text for recitation in which the music is the main concern. Improved organization, greater length, and less terse language are noticeable also in the genres which specifically grew out of the use of writing to make lasting records: royal memorial inscriptions, legal deeds and contracts, and so on, and which are thus essentially evidential in character. A feature of considerable interest is the occurrence of a tradition about individual authorship of literary works at this time. The works of the standard Babylonian literature may, then, conveniently be considered under the headings of belletristic, handbook, and evidential genres.
A certain number of Sumerian myths were translated into Akkadian, seemingly already in Old-Babylonian times, and continued to be copied. Among these were the two Ninurta compositions, Lugal-e, which as has been mentioned, seem to date back to Gudea or earlier, and An-gim-dim4-ma; a bilingual creation myth.
Among Akkadian works, such myths as the one about Anzu and the Atrahasis myth continued to be copied. New additions were the "Dynasty of Dunnum," a tale about the earliest generations of gods, who cheerfully murdered their fathers to take over rule of the world, and then married their mothers or sisters; the myth of "Nergal and Ereshkigal" (cos i, 384–90), which relates how Nergal became lord of the Netherworld and subdued and married its queen, Ereshkigal; and the "Erra Epic" (cos i, 404–16), which describes how Erra tricked Marduk into letting him take over rule of the universe and then embarked upon a veritable orgy of rioting and killing. He was finally pacified by his vizier Ishum, but still had the gall to pride himself on having left "a remnant" and not wiped out everybody. The "Myth of Adapa" (cos i, 449) also deserves mention. Adapa refused, at his master Ea's clever advice, the food of life and water of life offered to him in heaven when he was called to account there before Anu for having broken the wing of the south wind with a spell. Ea, clearly, did not want his clever servant to be other than mortal.
The most substantial and impressive literary work that should be mentioned here is, however, the Babylonian epic of creation Enuma eliš (cos i, 390–402). Scholars differ considerably in their dating of it and estimates range from Old-Babylonian times down to shortly after 1000 b.c.e. It can be assumed that in essentials it is a creation of late Old-Babylonian times, but that what has been preserved is a late redaction from approximately the beginning of the first millennium b.c.e. It tells how in the beginning there was only Tiamat, the Sea, and Apsu, the sweet waters under the earth. As their waters mingled the gods were born of them. The gods, as embodiments of activity, found themselves in basic conflict with their first parents. Provoked beyond endurance by the gods, Apsu, at the first, determined to destroy them, but was subdued by Ea with a spell and killed. Ea's son Marduk, playing with the winds which his grandfather Anu had given him, further provoked Tiamat and her brood, and she was brought to attack the gods. She raised an army and placed her second husband, Kingu, in command. Marduk, chosen champion, "king," by the gods, met her in battle and defeated her. Out of her carcass he then created the present universe. Kingu, after he had been indicated as fomenter of the rebellion, was killed, and Marduk had Ea create man from his blood to take over the hard menial work and leave the gods free. Marduk then pardoned those gods who had sided with Tiamat and distributed all the gods as administrators in heaven and on earth. To show their gratitude, the gods then for the last time took tools in hand and built Babylon, the city Marduk had asked for. Here in his temple Esagil they all gathered for a feast and assembly to appoint him permanent king and to celebrate his powers and virtues in 50 names by which they named him, one after the other. The postscript to Enuma eliš suggests that it be read to princes, and it is in fact a paean in praise of the ideal absolute monarch as personified in Marduk. When later in the first millennium the benevolent despot became a rarity in Babylonia, the despot pure and simple seems, in the figure of Erra, to have been a more believable symbol of the power ruling existence. In fact, the Erra Epic looks almost like a deliberate attack on Enuma eliš and its political optimism.
Of older Sumerian epics that of Lugalbanda – at least its second half – survived as a bilingual. An Akkadian translation of the end of "Gilgamesh, Engidu and the Nether-world" was appended mechanically to the late version of the Gilgamesh Epic as its 12th tablet, probably by a copyist rather than by the author of the version. Of Akkadian epics the Etana Epic and the Narâ m-Sin Epic survived. An epic about Sargon's campaign into Asia Minor, Šar tamḥari, "The King of Battle," would seem to have been first composed in Old-Babylonian times. The Gilgamesh Epic, which may have existed as an epic in Old-Babylonian times and which in part builds on Sumerian materials, was reworked traditionally by one Sin-liqi-unninni into the standard later version which has been preserved from Ashurbanipal's library. A completely new epic of this time is a warlike epic about Tukulti-Ninurta's wars with Babylonia.
New and notable contributions to the genre of wisdom literature are two long poems, Ludlul belnêmeqi, "Let me Praise the Expert" (cos i, 492), which treats the theme of the righteous sufferer, and the Theodicy (cos i, 492–95), which deals with the problem of the worldly success of the wicked. The proverb tradition continues, and new material is added, especially, it appears, fables. The genres of disputes also continued with new compositions such as a "Dispute between the Horse and the Bull." A new creation – based on the omen form – is a text warning rulers against mistreating Babylon and its citizens. It dates most likely from early in Sennacherib's reign. Humor seems to be represented – outside of the proverb literature – by the so-called "Dialogue of Pessimism" (cos i, 495–96), an ironical dialogue between a fickle master and his slave, and by the story of a poor man getting his revenge on an abusive official called "The Poor Man of Nippur."
incantations and prayers
Numerous large series of incantations belong to the collections recording the lore that a capable incantation-pries (ašipu) ought to control. Of the better known of those which have come down may be mentioned Utukke limnuti, "The Evil Demons," against demons of diseases; Bit rimki, "The Bath House," containing ritual and incantations for purifying the king by means of lustrations; the series "Mouthwashing"; and the series Maqlu and Šurpu, devoted to the burning of witches in effigy and other white magic; and many more. Individual prayers were sorted under the incantation priest: various new types of prayer, with hymns to gods as their introductory part, developments of the penitential psalm, and prayers classed as incantations. To a large extent treatment of illness that was considered to be caused by evil demons was the task of the ašipu, who thus overlaps in function with the physician or asu, who worked mainly with medicaments of various kinds. It is often difficult to distinguish between his handbooks and those of the ašipu.
The lament genre with its laments for great public disasters continued to be in the hands of the kal- (Sumerian gala) or "elegist." As mentioned, the laments tended to grow in length and to become more and more repetitious. They also tended to be held in more general terms and lost the close connection with identifiable historical events which characterized the older laments for destroyed cities…
A new Akkadian genre was in Old-Babylonian times the omen. In the following centuries the collections of omens, their systematization, and the systematic extension of possible ominous data, grew. The handbooks for the use of the barû, the "seer," were numerous. There were series dealing with omens from the shape of the liver of sacrificial animals, from dreams, from monstrous births, from ominous happenings of all kinds in city and country, astronomical omens, omens from wind and weather, and so on.
To the dupšarru (Sumerian dubsar), the "scribe," may be ascribed particularly the continuing tradition and development of the lexical texts, which began back at the very beginning of writing as sign lists. This genre grows considerably both in new works and in the sophistication of lexical treatment. One may mention the large series arranged according to sign-form ea-A-nâqu and its expanded version-A-nâqu and the great series of realia organized in terms of logical classification: Urra-ḥubullu. Noteworthy are also the Akkadian synonym list and the examples of lexical and grammatical commentaries to individual works. With the lexical texts go the grammatical treatises. Here the older type of paradigm texts is replaced with a more radical analysis into grammatical elements in so far as such could be represented in a syllabic script.
Like present-day governments, governments in the ancient world, whether Mesopotamia or Canaan, placed a great deal of emphasis on the need for statistical, especially demographic, information. One of the best ways of obtaining such information was by means of a *census. Scholars have been bothered by certain aspects of the census as noted in the Bible (Ex. 30:11–16; Num. 1:1 19), and questioned the need on the part of the participants in the census for ritual expiation (Heb. kippurim; see *Kipper).
Documents discovered in the royal archives of *Mari in northern Mesopotamia have greatly helped to clarify the problem. In one letter discovered in the archives the following order is given: "Let the troops be recorded by name" (G. Dossin, Archives royales de Mari, 1 (1950), no. 42, lines 22–24; cf. Num. 1:2). In other words, a list of names was to be prepared. Such lists are also available from many other sites in the Ancient Near East. The technical term for a census at Mari was tēbibtum, "purification" (according to other scholars, "expert counting"). At Mari as in the Bible there appears to be a connection between census and purification. It is known that in Mesopotamia there existed a definite fear among the people of having their names put on lists. The similarity between the census and the books of life and death caused a feeling of discomfort about a census. There is much in common between the institution of the census in Mari and in Israel. The purposes of the censuses were similar: they served as military lists and for the division of property. So too, some of the technical terms associated with the census are similar: Hebrew pqd and Akkadian paqādum, "to count"; Hebrew kippurim and Akkadian ubbubum "purification." Censuses in Israel, as in Mari, were taken by writing down the names, as noted in Numbers 1:2: be-mispar shemot, "according to the number of the names." It is likely then that the reason for the expiation connected with the census in Israel was the same as in Mari. There is a reference to a *book of life in the Bible (Ex. 32:32–33), when Moses, pleading for Israel after they sinned with the golden calf, says "Erase me from the book that You have written." The concept of a book of life and death is well known among Jews in the mishnaic period. Its antecedents go back to the biblical period (S. Paul, janes 5 , 345–53).
It has sometimes been claimed that the religion of Mesopotamia was based on premises totally different from those underlying the religion of Israel. But we must distinguish between the religious ideals of the Bible and the practices of ancient Israel. The biblical prophets portray themselves as a minority who tolerate the worship of no god other than Yahweh, whereas their opponents worship other gods alongside Yahweh (e.g. Jer. 7:8–11). Depending on who controlled the Yahweh temples it was possible for Yahweh to entertain visiting gods in his temple just as Marduk might do in Babylon (ii Kings. 21:4–5). In the area of religious institutions it is likely that materials from Mesopotamia will be helpful. A case in point is the temple. In Mesopotamia the temple was conceived as a house of the god, comparable to the house of a noble or king. The temple housed the statue of the god, thought to contain the essence of the god. The temple building itself, and its symbolism, was considered a reflection of the cosmic abode of the god. The rites of worship consisted mainly in ministering to the physical needs of the gods. The Israelite temple is in many ways similar to the Mesopotamian temple at least in its external aspects. The Hebrew language employs vocabulary similar to that of its neighbors. Thus the temple is a "house" or "palace," while to worship is "to serve" or "to work." Like its Mesopotamian counterparts, the Israelite temple made use of cosmic symbolism. Scholars in recent years have begun to question the axiom that the cult of Yahweh was aniconic. The fact that Deuteronomy 4:12–19 fulminates against making an image of Yahweh (see already Hazzekuni a.l.) suggests strongly that the practice was known. Judges 17–18 indicates the presence of an image of Yahweh in the temple of Dan (especially Judg. 17:1–6). As such, the role of the cult statue in Mesopotamia may yet illuminate a similar phenomenon in ancient Israel. Apostolic prophecy once considered unique to ancient Israel is now known from *Mari as well as from Neo-Assyrian sources (saa ix) proximately closer to the days of the Hebrew monarchy. The use of blood sacrifices in the Israelite cults differentiates from the Mesopotamian cults in which the gods were fed a diet that was vegetarian in the main.
The culture of Mesopotamia pervaded the ancient Near East. Ancient Israel and Judah spent centuries in the shadow of Mesopotamia. Biblical law, language, literature and religion were all influenced by Mesopotamian civilization. Through the intermediacy of Aramaic, the Akkadian language continued to make an impact on the Jews of Babylonia. As such, Assyriology is significant, not just for its own sake, but for the study of the Bible and Judaism.
[Aaron Skaist /
S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]
history: H.W.F. Saggs, The Greatness that was Babylon (1962); S.N. Kramer, The Sumerians: their History, Culture and Character (1963); J. Hawkes and Sir L. Woolley, Prehistory and the Beginnings of Civilization (1963); A.L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization (1964); G. Roux, Ancient Iraq (1964); L. Pareti et al., The Ancient World, 2 (1965); T. Jacobsen, in: W.L. Moran (ed.), Toward the Image of Tammuz and other Essays on Mesopotamian History and Culture (1970); W.W. Hallo and W.K. Simpson, The Ancient Near East: a History (1971); For further bibl. see cah2, 1–2 (1961ff.). government: T. Jacobsen, in: Zeitschrift für Assyriologie, 52 (1957), 91–140; idem, in: W.L. Moran (ed.), Toward the Image of Tammuz… (1970), 132–56, 157–243, 366–96, 396–430; N. Bailkey, in: American Historical Review, 72/74 (1967), 1211–36. law: Pritchard, Texts (19693), 159 (Lipit-Ishtar), 161 (Eshnunna), 163 (Hammurapi), 180 (Assyrian Laws), 188 (Hittite Laws), 523 (Ur-Nammu/a), 525 (Sumerian Laws), 526 (Ammisaduqa); G.R. Driver and J. Miles, The Assyrian Laws (1935); idem, The Babylonian Laws, 2 (1952–55); F.J. Steele, in: American Journal of Archaeology, 52 (1948), 425–50; A. Goetze, The Laws of Eshnunna (1956); F.R. Kraus, Ein Edikt des Königs Ammsaduqa von Babylon (1958); J. Friedrich, Die hethitischen Gesetze (1959); J.J. Finkelstein, in: jcs, 22 (1969), 66–82. literature: sources in translation: Pritchard, Texts3; A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis (1942); A. Schott and W. von Soden, Das Gilgamesch Epos (1970); W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atra-Hasis – The Babylonian Story of the Flood (1969); A. Falkenstein and W. von Soden, Sumerische und akkadische Hymnen und Gebete (1953); T. Jacobsen and J. Wilson, Most Ancient Verse (1960); W.G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (1960); Luckenbill, Records. treatments: S.N. Kramer, Sumerian Mythology (1944); idem, From the Tablets of Sumer (1956); idem, The Sumerians (1963); B. Meissner, Babylonien und Assyrien, 2 (1925); A.L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia (1964; rev. E. Reiner, 1977); T. Jacobsen, in: W.L. Moran (ed.), Toward the Image of Tammuz… (1970). religion: general: J. Bottéro, La religion Babylonienne (1952); E. Dhorme, Les Religions de Babylonie et d'Assyrie (19452); D. Edzard, in: H.W. Haussig (ed.), Wörterbuch der Mythologie, 1 (1965); T. Jacobsen, in: H. Frankfort et al. (eds.), The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man (1946 = Before Philosophy, 1949); S.N. Kramer, The Sumerians (1963); B. Meissner, Babylonien und Assyrien, 2 vols. (1920–25). special studies: H. Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods (1948); C.J. Gadd, Ideas of Divine Rule in the Ancient Near East (1948); T. Jacobsen, in: W.L. Moran (ed.), Toward the Image of Tammuz… (1970); S.N. Kramer, Sumerian Mythology (1944); idem, From the Tablets of Sumer (1956); idem. The Sacred Marriage Rite (1969); R. Labat, Le caractère religieux de la royauté assyrobabylonienne (1939); S.A. Pallis, The Babylonian Akitu Festival (1926). sources in translation: Pritchard, Texts3; Luckenbill, Records. assyriology: E.A.W. Budge, The Rise and Progress of Assyriology (1925); A. Deimel, Orientalia, Uebersicht ueber die Keilschrift-Literatur; Reallexikon der Assyriologie (1928ff.); A. Pohl et al., Orientalia, Keilschriftbibliographie, 9 (1940); A. Parrot, Archéologie Mésopotamienne, 1 (1946); S. Lloyd, Foundations in the Dust (1955); S.A. Pallis, The Antiquity of Iraq: A Handbook of Assyriology (1956); J. Friedrich, Extinct Languages (1957); A.L. Oppenheim, in: Current Anthropology, 1 (1960), 409–23; idem, Ancient Mesopotamia (1964); P. Garelli, L'Assyriologie (1964); B. Meissner, Die Keilschrift (1967); R. Borger, Handbuch der Keilschrifliteratur (1967–1975). add. bibliography: general: M. Chavalas and K. Younger (eds.), Mesopotamia and the Bible (1992); D. Snell (ed.), A Companion to the Ancient Near East (2005). history: P. Steinkeller, abd, 4:724–32; A.K. Grayson (ibid), 732–77; R. Drews, The End of the Bronze Age (1993); Cambridge Ancient History, i; ii; iii:1; iii/2; iv; vi (revised; 1972–1994); A. Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East c. 3000–330 b.c. (2 vols., extensive bibliography; 1995); cane, 2, 807–979; language and literature: Translations in cos; Studies in cane iv, part 9. law: S. Geengus, in: abd, 4, 242–52; M. Roth, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor (Akkadian and Sumerian in transliteration and translation. Hittite laws in translation by H. Hoffner; 1995); religion: T. Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness (1976); J. Black, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia an Illustrated Dictionary (1992); S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (2000); K. van der Toorn, Family Religion in Babylonia, Syria and Israel (1996); idem, (ed.), The Image and the Book (1997).
Between 3000 b.c.e. and 300 b.c.e. the civilizations thriving in Mesopotamia, a large region centered between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in modern-day Iraq, laid the foundation for customs that would dominate later European culture. Though many different societies emerged and organized cities, states, and empires in Mesopotamia, historians study these cultures together because they lived near each other and had many similarities. The main civilizations were the Sumerians (3000–2000 b.c.e.), the Akkadians (2350–2218 b.c.e.), the Babylonians (1894–1595 b.c.e.), the Assyrians (1380–612 b.c.e.), and the Persians (550–330 b.c.e.).
The people of Mesopotamia
The Sumerians created the earliest civilization in Mesopotamia around 3000 b.c.e. Large city-states developed near the Euphrates River. Some of the cities grew to have populations near 35,000 citizens. Although most Sumerians made their living by farming, professionals, such as doctors, organized into powerful associations. Both rich and poor Sumerians were considered citizens, and slaves could earn money and buy their freedom. While men enjoyed the most power in society, women in Sumeria held power in their families and a ruler's wife had authority in the government of a city-state.
Living among the Sumerians for many years, the Akkadians took power of Mesopotamia around 2350 b.c.e. Little evidence is available to describe the Akkadian culture, but it is believed to have resembled the Sumerian culture but differed in language and ethnicity. Sumerians reclaimed control of the region after about two hundred years of domination by the Akkadians and others. Under the restored Sumerian rule, Mesopotamia was again dominated by thriving agriculturally-based cities.
By 1894 b.c.e. the Babylonians rose to power in Mesopotamia. Babylonians created a thriving, organized society. Under the rule of Hammurabi (1792–1750 b.c.e.), the king of Babylon, a code of laws was developed and written down. Although evidence exists that Babylonians sold clothing and perfumes in stores, little is known about what Babylonians actually wore. While there are some depictions of the king, which indicate that he dressed in styles very similar to the Sumerians, no pictures of Babylonian women exist. The Babylonian Empire fell in about 1595 b.c.e.
Assyrians had prospered in Mesopotamia for many centuries, but by 911 b.c.e. the society began conquering surrounding areas and united Mesopotamia into one enormous empire that encompassed the Taurus Mountains of modern-day Turkey, the Mediterranean coast, and portions of Egypt. To hold their empire together, the Assyrians aggressively protected their territory and battled constantly with enemies. At the same time as they multiplied and defended their conquests, Assyrians built cities with large buildings and statues. Assyrian society was controlled by men, and women were legally inferior to them. Although the Assyrians built strong economic ties over a vast territory, they ruled brutally and the conquered nations celebrated when the Assyrians were overthrown in 612 b.c.e.
After the Assyrians were conquered, the Persian Empire rose to prominence. The Persian Empire, which united approximately twenty different societies, became known for its efficiency and its kindness to its citizens. Under Persian rule products such as clothing, money, and furniture were made in vast quantities.
How much do we really know?
The artifacts left by these cultures include clay and stone statues, carvings on palace walls, carved ivory, some wall paintings, and jewelry. These items illustrate the clothing, hairdressing, and body adornment of these cultures as well as how these cultures idealized the human form. While these visual forms provide costume historians with a great deal of information, of even greater interest are the written tablets that have been discovered. The development of written language in Mesopotamia provides historians and archeologists, scientists who study past cultures, with information about daily life in the distant past. Descriptions of how the people of Mesopotamia acted toward one another, how they dressed and cleaned themselves, how they prepared for weddings, how they organized businesses, and how they ruled by law are among the things that are recorded in written language.
But even with this information, it is impossible to know if we truly understand what the people of Mesopotamia looked like or exactly what they wore. The statues made by sculptors offer simplified depictions of people and their clothing, making it difficult to know the type of fabric used in a particular garment. In addition, different cultures portrayed people in different ways. The Sumerians created statues and pictures of stocky, large-eyed people while the Assyrians depicted people as lean, strong, and hairy. It is impossible to know if these people actually looked different from one another or if these artifacts represent the idealized version of different cultures.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea. Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.
Payne, Blanche. History of Costume: From the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.Mesopotamian Clothing
Mesopotamian Body Decorations
Mesopotamia (mĕs´əpətā´mēə) [Gr.,=between rivers], ancient region of Asia, the territory about the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, included in modern Iraq. The region extends from the Persian Gulf north to the mountains of Armenia and from the Zagros and Kurdish mountains on the east to the Syrian Desert. From the mountainous north, Mesopotamia slopes down through grassy steppes to a central alluvial plain, which was once rendered exceedingly fertile by a network of canals.
The south was long thought to be the cradle of civilization until earlier settlements (which probably date from about 7000 BC) were found in N Mesopotamia; Jarmo, the earliest of these, was superseded by a succession of cultures: Tell Hassuna, Samarra, and Tell Halaf. Tell Halaf, the most advanced of these early cultures, is famous for Halaf ware, the finest prehistoric pottery in Mesopotamia. It is found at such sites as Nineveh and Tepe Gawra. While these advances were being made in the north, civilization was just beginning in the south, particularly at Eridu. The Al Ubaid culture that followed flourished in both N and S Mesopotamia, at Tell Zeidan and Tepe Gawra (N) and Ubaid, Eridu, and Oueili (S). Irrigated agriculture became widespread, and social stratification developed in this early urban period.
The Proto-Literate and Early Dynastic Phases
During the next period (called the proto-literate phase) the south was the important region, and the transformation of the village culture into an urban civilization took place. Uruk (modern Tall al Warka), the foremost site at the beginning of this period, has yielded such monumental architecture as the temple of Inanna and the ziggurat of Anu. Also found at Uruk were tablets including the earliest pictographic writing. At the same time and apparently independently, smaller organized settlements arose at sites such as Tell Hamoukar and Tell Brak in NE Syria and Hacinebi and Arslantepe in SE Turkey.
The early dynastic phase that followed saw the development of city-states all over the Middle East as far as N Syria, N Mesopotamia, and probably Elam. The famous sites of this period are Tell Asmar, Kafaje, Ur, Kish, Mari, Farah, and Telloh (Lagash). The Sumerians (see Sumer), the inhabitants of these city-states of S Mesopotamia, were unified at Nippur, where they gathered together to worship Enlil, the wind god. The famous first dynasty of Ur came at the end of the early dynastic period.
Dynasties and Empires
Sargon founded (c.2340) the Akkadian dynasty, the first empire in Mesopotamia, whose example of empire building was later followed by the old Babylonian dynasty and late Assyrian Empire (see Babylonia; Assyria). There was also a great cultural exchange between the Mesopotamians and the Elamites (and other Iranians), who for centuries had threatened each other. Mesopotamia still had prestige at the time of Alexander the Great, but later it was generally a part of the Roman Empire. The Arabs took it from the Sassanid Empire, and it rose to great prominence after Baghdad was made (AD 762) the capital of the Abbasid caliphate. This glory was destroyed when the Mongols under Hulagu Khan devastated the area in 1258, destroying the ancient irrigation system.
The Region in Modern Times
In the centuries following, Mesopotamia never regained its former prominence. In World War I, however, it was an important battlefield. The kingdom of Iraq was formed in 1921 (Iraq became a republic in 1958) and is of international importance because of its rich oil fields, but its status in the world is enhanced by the rich archaeological finds of the incredibly distant past.
See H. Frankfort, The Birth of Civilization in the Near East (1951, repr. 1968); S. N. Kramer, Cradle of Civilization (1967); D. Oates, Studies in the Ancient History of Northern Iraq (1968); L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia (1968); H. J. Nissen and P. Heine, From Mesopotamia to Iraq: A Concise History (2009).